Marshal paints everyday people…

December 12, 2019 on News by steve

Portraits on corrugated cardboard by MARSHAL Available at the gallery

Article originally published in the OTTAWA CITIZEN – CHRISTOPHER GULY

Joe Foster knows well the struggles of an artist.


For the past 25 years, the Perth, Ontario native has been painting landscapes as well as portraits of people and animals.

His work — which he signs using his beloved late maternal grandfather’s first name, which is also his own middle name, Marshal — has landed in collections at the Toronto Zoo, and as far afield as France and South Africa.

But creating art has been a passion project more than a steady source of income — as much as 65 per cent of the profits from his paintings goes to the galleries that sell them.

Now Foster has found new artistic inspiration from people who face far greater struggles than him.

For the past two years, he and his wife, Nicole, have volunteered at The Mission, a soup kitchen that runs along a narrow hallway and adjoins the Iron Legends tattooing-and-piercing parlour on Beckwith Street in Smiths Falls.

Twice a week, Nicole Foster prepares and serves meals at The Mission. Her chicken fried rice dish is a hit with the 45 hungry souls who come for lunch when she’s on duty Mondays and Fridays. Joe Foster is there too, feeding conversation.

“I sit down with folks who come in and ask them to tell me about their week,” he says. “They decompress with me. I am more of an open ear for them than anything else.”

Many of The Mission’s patrons are barely getting by on their government pensions. Some are or have been homeless. But while they may be worn down by life, Foster’s new friends are also “incredibly cheerful.”

He decided to paint their portraits based on photographs he took of them, and sell the paintings to raise money for the volunteer-run Mission, which also receives financial support from evangelical Christian churches in Smiths Falls.

Foster wanted to give the work a “gritty” feel, so he created canvasses made from scraps of cardboard pizza boxes and other cardboard containers. He glued the cardboard bits onto Masonite to provide rigidity and then sealed it with clear coat.

So far, Foster has produced seven portraits that convey the raw reality of his subjects.

One depicts Loretta Ranger, a white-haired woman in her 50s, who is a “fixture” in Smiths Falls, according to Foster.

“Everybody knows her in town,” he explains. “She’s boisterous and gets in your face, and her personality is bigger than life.”

Foster chose not to focus on her eccentricities, but to evoke what he describes as her nobility. Ranger’s face is in profile as she gazes ahead, suggesting strength and confidence.

Loretta – Artist’s collection

Another oil-on-cardboard, called Ermin, shows a bespectacled, white-bearded widower wearing a baseball cap. A retired trucker, the elderly man is haunted by the memory of being on the road with his job when his wife died at home.

“He has this remorse that he wasn’t there when she needed him and beats himself up about it,” Foster explains.

As a result, Ermin, whose family name Foster does not know, refuses to live in the home he shared with his wife, and dwells in a trailer.

Yet there’s no hint of that heartbreak in Foster’s artistic homage to Ermin. He is seen as a gentle-eyed, approachable man — the funny guy who regularly cracks jokes — whom Foster has to come to know in their regular interactions.

Ermin, Artist’s collection

Then there’s Grant, who cuts a unique Santa Claus-like figure with his reddish hair and eyebrows and bushy white beard. But unlike the others, Foster’s portrait of Grant is melancholic. His bright blue eyes stare off into the distance, perhaps longing for the family from whom he is estranged.

Yet to meet Grant, one would find a “jovial, fun-loving guy,” says Foster.

“I did not want to just depict sadness with my portraits,” he says. “A lot of the people aren’t sad.

They’re not wealthy and don’t have a lot, but they’re satisfied with where they’re at.”

Foster plans to expand his portrait portfolio to include some of the 20-somethings who drop by Iron Legends for tats and piercings — and eventually broaden his oil-on-cardboard project to help raise funds for other places that serve meals to the poor and homeless, such as The Ottawa Mission.

Says Foster: “Everybody deserves dignity, and I’m hoping that my work will that with the people I paint.”