“When I was about four or five,” Rebecca Foster remembers, “my grandmother gave me this massive canvas and some oil paints, and let me loose. That was my first piece.” She adds with a rueful grin, “I had no idea what I was painting.” That masterpiece now hangs with pride in her studio. The talented artist is best known for her watercolour work, although it isn’t her favourite medium. “When you make a mistake, you can’t paint over it,” she explains. But if she feels any uncertainty with this media, it’s not immediately apparent. Her palette is stunning, with rich hues and deeply nuanced tones. Many of her pieces capture the fading glory of colonial architecture. One pet subject is the Gingerbread House, which now stands forlorn and neglected opposite the Savannah. “I’m obsessed with old architecture. I’d love to do a show based only on this house; just different angles that people never see.” Other paintings are peopled by the denizens of J’Ouvert. Moko jumbies, midnight robbers, fancy sailors, devils and Dames Lorraine pierce the purple shadows of the breaking dawn like half-remembered dreams. Surreal, evocative, almost unnerving, the figures are buried in our collective memories of a Carnival tradition that may not survive the passing of this generation. Throughout school, and into early adulthood, Foster gave in to the irresistible urge to paint, but this was temporarily suspended with the premature birth of her second child, who required sustained care for the first two years of his life. “That took a toll, and I didn’t have any creative outlet.”
Once her children were both thriving and in good health, her life was thrown into upheaval a second time as she and her husband uprooted themselves to move to Bahrain for what was expected to be a five-year engagement in the energy industry. They returned after just a year, but the separation from her familiar environment had given her time to evaluate her life and explore her options...and this is where her love affair with art metamorphosed into a career. “When I was leaving Bahrain I had a one-night show and most of my pieces sold. It reignited my passion.” She’s often hired to do portraits of adults, children, and, she adds with a laugh, pets. One of her biggest commissions to date was a portrait of the Prime Minister, which was presented to her in commemoration of the 2nd anniversary of the People’s Partnership. Other pieces were recently gifted to a visiting Panamanian presidential delegation. Another collection of portraiture she calls her Dead Musicians Club, featuring the likes of Bob Marley, Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, and Jerry Garcia. “I love the human figure. Portraits are something I’ve always enjoyed doing.” Occasionally, her colouring—blonde hair, blue eyes and peach-blush skin—come as a surprise to some, who automatically expect such pieces to from someone who looks more “rootsy”, but this born Trini doesn’t feel she has anything to apologise for. “I’d like to represent Trinidad, promote our culture through the Carnival scenes and the old buildings. People abroad also have a sense of nostalgia.” For this, she’s found that social media is an invaluable resource that gets her name, and her work, into the open.
Ever searching for outlets for her creativity, Foster has begun exploring acting, taking twice-weekly live online classes with the Talent Factory Film workshop. She’s about to take up a meaty role with an upcoming film called Amour, Désamour, which is partly funded by UWI and is written co-directed by university lecturers Dr. Savine Chinien and Dr. Tia Smith Cooper. It addresses many social issues facing women in T&T today. She doesn’t have a problem making the leap from art to acting. “I don’t want to sit down later and think, ‘What if? I should have tried this’. If there’s an opportunity, why not take it?” Balancing motherhood with her work is her greatest challenge, especially as her husband works overseas for several weeks at a time, but she does as much as she can when the children are in school. “I do have days when things aren’t flowing, but I do try. You never know when something can come out of it. It’s life, and you have to make it work.” Foster’s most recent showing was held at the Y Gallery, in collaboration with three other female artists. It was, of course, called “Four.” The show was a resounding success for all the artists, and her head is brimming with ideas for what’s to come. Foster’s future looks as bright as her paintings. “I want my art out there. I want to take it slowly; I want to be around.”