I grew up in Seattle—a city of water blanketed by humidity from rain, forests, lakes, and Puget Sound. I have always loved abstract art, and I wanted to paint evocative subject matter that could carry emotion and thought. Water was my solution. Painted without a horizon, it was constantly changing, rich with meaning, and always abstract.
I completed my first water series in the 1970s, using water-soluble media, and returned to this subject, then using oil paint, in the 1990s.
Each water painting begins with a photograph. I travel to bodies of water ranging from the deep fjords of Norway to the industrialized Hudson River, choosing images that stimulate my imagination and that showcase the complexity of water as it plays with light, wind, and the earth beneath it. These photos are models for, but not dictators of, the painting process. My vision changes even as I seek to get the image down, and I experiment with ways to mix and layer pigments in order to trap the evanescent nature of the experience.
Painting water is intimately coupled with my Buddhist studies with Gelek Rinpoche [founder of the Tibetan Buddhist center Jewel Heart] and my meditation practice. In painting, as in any art, we can escape the prison of our minds and connect with what transcends ordinary perceptions. And just as a body of water stays still while a wave-form moves through it, consciousness remains stable despite the constant motion and flow of our thoughts.
Environmental Buddhism’s call to practice nonharming has inspired me to study water, and to do what I can to ameliorate the suffering that comes with the ingestion of polluted water.
Hydraulic fracking in particular is contaminating water supplies with toxic chemicals and retarding the development of alternative energy sources. Advertised as a “green industry,” fracking, a method for shale gas and oil extraction, is anything but, and its consequences have been insufficiently studied because of the political sway of the oil and gas industry. I hope that my art helps to support people and institutions committed to being stewards of water.
Watch “Like a Circle in Water,” a Tricycle Original Short on Fredericka Foster’s work.
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