Artist Feature: Peter Foucault
“Foucault’s procedure connects his work with the Surrealist lineage of automatism, the chance-enamored strategies of Fluxus and oddities on the fringes of art such as Harold Cohen’s computer-generated drawings.” — Kenneth Baker, San Francisco Chronicle
Peter Foucault creates works on paper that are fueled by his love of drawing and mark making. In his latest series of works, he created a sound-activated robot that “paints” ink-based drawings based on the perception of sound in its environment. He often utilizes objects that reference printmaking and multiplicities such as vintage USGS maps.
Foucault has shown in numerous exhibitions worldwide, including the Smithsonian Institutes’ Freer and Sackler Gallery, the Kit Schulte Contemporary (Berlin, Germany), and the University of Salford (Manchester, England). His interactive robotic drawing installations have been presented at various venues focused on technology and innovation including The NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, CA. He studied printmaking at the University of Washington and holds an MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute. He lives and works in Oakland, CA.
What inspired you to be an artist?
When I was growing up in the suburbs of Seattle, Washington, I used to skateboard every day. I was really inspired by the board graphics and it got me wanting to draw my own. I started working in sketchbooks and then moved to drawing directly on blank skateboard decks. I painted huge murals in my bedroom and began to get interested in street art. Later on in college I started taking printmaking classes at the University of Washington and something really clicked. I loved the chance elements that occur in etching and aquatints, and felt that magic when you pull the fresh sheet of paper off of a litho stone or etching plate after it has run through a press. I was also drawn to the almost ritual and communal nature of the printshop itself. During these years I became friends with a really tight group of printmakers at the University. We hung out in local bars after long days working in the shop and stayed up late talking about art and life. We rented houses together and went on road trips. I think at this point I realized I was in this for the long haul. No other direction made any sense to me.
What do you hope your art provides to people? What about your work do you think resonates with them?
I hope my art provides an experience that people can become a part of. In the case of my robotic drawing installations, people can become connected for a moment and share an action and a creative process.
Recently I have started to offer this experience directly to clients in their own homes. I have a portable set up that can be installed within a family home and people can live with and interact with the robots for a duration of time. This becomes in a way a family portrait that documents the history of this time period through sound. When buyers purchase one of my drawings I hope it resonates with then in a way that they can continue to discover new moments within the compositions as they experience them over time.
You are not only an artist, but also a collector. When did you start buying original art?
I started collecting original art while I was an undergraduate in the printmaking department at the University of Washington. The department was really active and some amazing artists came through the program. I was able to start trading and purchasing prints and drawings from friends. After I graduated from my MFA program (at San Francisco Art Institute) I worked for almost a decade at a commercial gallery in SF that dealt in prints, maps and paintings from the 15th — 20th Century. Through this connection I gained a wealth of knowledge about this type of work and started collecting pieces from that period myself. For a while I was really into antique maps and books. I also have an affinity towards early twentieth through mid-century European printmakers and have acquired the work of artists such as Käthe Kollwitz and Joan Miró.
Currently my wife and I have been seeking out local Bay Area artists to incorporate into our collection. Some of our favorite pieces are an amazing Aaron Rosenstreich silver gelatin print of the deconstruction of the Bay Bridge, an intricately embroidered pelvic bone in a vintage frame by Marin Camille Hood, a Jeremy Fish lithograph of an animal totem, a sensual black and white cave-scape painting by Lindsey Lyons, and a quiet Jennifer Brandon photograph of a composition of string and foam. We just purchased a bright abstract of an Oakland waterfront loading crane by Mike Kimball that really has activated our front hallway space.
Why is art important to you?
Art can take you to a place so far away from the work-a-day mundane into a realm of thought, imagination and contemplation.