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Valerian: Dark Fashion Gothic Portrait Art by Elaine Foster  




Elaine Foster: Artist's Statement


Artist's Statement

Elaine Foster ("Valerian")
Primary Medium: Acrylic and Oil Painting

Although painting is considered a traditional medium, I prefer to work around time-honoured techniques in favour of a method with which I have found considerable success.

The non-traditional aspect of my technique is that I use both acrylic and oil on the same surface at the same time. I use black acrylic paint to "draw" my subject, as one would sketch with India ink. Once the acrylic is dry, vibrantly coloured oil paint is thinned into a transparent glaze, and applied over the surface as a stain. This allows the detail of the acrylic "drawing" to show through clearly, and permits the bright whiteness of the canvas to keep the oil colours intense. The result has a very stylized and painterly look. However, I like to spend as little time as possible completing the piece in order to preserve this sketch-like appearance. Too much time spent on correcting mistakes in the final stages can lead me to overwork it, making it muddy and opaque, and obscuring the acrylic drawing beneath. Because of the speed at which I work, and my tendency to let my hand run wild without correction, some features become unintentionally exaggerated and distorted, giving an otherwise bland portrait a considerable amount of character. In addition, I have been known to incorporate oil pastel and fingernail varnish, as well as broken mirror fragments, metal chain, dried flowers, hard candy, jewelry and other found objects into the image. So much for tradition!

I am most fascinated with figurative work, predominantly in the form of portraits. My work of the past 18 years has consisted almost entirely of female portraits - most of them being images of European fashion models. These women have influenced me more profoundly over North American models, because of their look of extreme confidence, their dramatic physical features, and graceful ability to wear the most provocative and even ludicrous fashions by cutting-edge designers. Even so, unlike most portrait painters, I believe rendering accuracy is secondary. I prefer to capture the essence of the individual, rather than produce an exact photographic likeness. My greatest influences have been from certain painters and illustrators of the late 19th century and early 20th Century, who made famous such styles as Art Nouveau and Expressionism. Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, Edvard Munch, Edward Gorey and Aubrey Beardsley are among those who have made the greatest impact on me, each with their own unique way of presenting the human portrait. Added to these is an admiration for the vibrant silk-screen work of Andy Warhol, whose high-contrast style has influenced the look of my technique the most.

Since graduating from the Emily Carr Institute of Art & Design in 1991, I have made it my mission to revive an age-old romantic, Bohemian lifestyle. I am inspired by a love of cafés, alternative theatres and nightclubs, and their eclectic patrons. I am also compelled by the darker side of sensuality; I have been a part of Vancouver's Gothic and fetish fashion scene and alternative music subculture for more than 20 years, and what I see in them never ceases to intrigue me. From dimly-lit art cafés, to masquerade balls and Gothic nightclubs, I take great pleasure in people-watching and observing the eccentric at play.

Through my work, I would like to clear the nose-prints off art's proverbial 'mirror to the world', so people might catch a clear glimpse of things they might otherwise overlook. I'd like to give them a small taste of the strange, subtle beauty of the underworld: a Geisha in a leather dress and fishnet gloves, the brooding glance of an aging actress, a glamorous transvestite fashion model, or demonic-looking statues in a lush Victorian garden. These are things not commonly seen, or if they are, they are frequently passed over by the lure of a more conventional aesthetic.