Joe “Marshal” Foster captures the essence of the friends he has made volunteering in the community, spending time with the homeless at the Smith Fall’s soup kitchen. The portrait series pays homage to his friends at “The Mission” and gives back to the community raising funds for this valuable community meeting space.
Joe volunteers his time to make conversations with the homeless. Over time conversations turned into friendships, and these people became an important part of his life, and now his art. Influenced by National Film Board artist Douglas Manning, Foster earns his living as an artist in the hamlet of Smith Falls an hour west of Ottawa.
“You can’t be a sometimes friend; you have to be their true friend no matter where you meet them. You can’t be their friend at the mission then avoid them when you see them somewhere else.”, says Joe. To unlock their character, he must prove he cares for the people he paints. When they need a lift, he drives them or shares a coffee at a local diner.
Joe captures the character he sees in their faces, and the relationships he has built in incredible art created on a pizza box. The cardboard pizza box mounted onto Masonite to provide rigidity and then sealed it with clear coat.
Joe explains, “Cardboard reminds me of them – gritty, urban and real … earthy and honest, not pretending to be something else.” Each canvas framed in gold “so that the common becomes extraordinary through art.”
Gurinder Saini, owner of Domino’s Pizza Stores in Guelph has donated 18 pizza boxes through arrangement with Domino’s Ottawa to Joe in preparation for an upcoming show in Guelph in 2019, to raise funds for local shelters. Details announced closer to the date.
The Railroad portrait (main photo) is quickly becoming his favorite portrait. “This old man lived in my hometown and most people avoided him and complained when he would block traffic on his scooter. I saw him and just had to paint him. I found out where he lived and asked him “If I give you $20 could I take your picture?” He looked at me and asked, “When do I get the $20?” I said he could have the money before I even take the picture.”
“After posing him and photographing him he said, “Do you know what I’m going to do with my $20?” I said no what and he said to me that there was a young single mother in his building with two little kids and he was going to give the money to her, so she could buy milk and bread for the kids. This guy that no one would talk to was more human than those who avoided him.” Joe sees this all the time at “The Mission” in Smith Fall’s.
He works from life as much as he can but normally people do not have the time to invest in working that way, so he works from photos. Foster’s work hangs in the corporate collection of the Metro Toronto Zoo and in collections as far away as France and South Africa.
These friends who are homeless have become his favorite subjects to work with. “I know them by name and rush every Monday and Wednesday to see them and talk. To find out what are their concerns and desires. What bothers them and what makes them happy. And hopefully I can pour into them and make their life a little easier for a couple days.”
While hanging at the Mission Joe sees what great character studies the faces that come in there would make, so he started painting them.
Joe “Marshal” Foster is an artist raising the dignity of homelessness by capturing the essence of a person, their inner character speaking in each portrait to the viewer, giving us all a glimpse of their life experiences.