Gail Foster's latest works pulsate like music. Her late grandmother was a concert pianist who played Beethoven concertos for her family every Sunday, and Foster's childhood experience of the piano must have influenced her esthetic. "Appassionata," currently on view at Fay Gold Gallery in Atlanta, is a tribute to her grandmother, inspired by the rhythms and structure of the classical concerto.
The 30 oil paintings and charcoal drawings in this series, done in 1998, show a single abstracted figure engulfed in motion. The image suggest a female aura, with heads and legs vaguely shaped and arms only intimated by shoulders.
Foster's best works are her 14 by 11 inch drawings of solitary or paired black and white figures. Variations of the charcoal line combine with spiraling erasure to give the drawings a sense of momentum. Vivace uses the sketchy and erased lines of a woman-shaped white dress against a smudgy gray-black background to define her unresolved movement. Less gestural and more romantic, Vivace II implies the bodice and skirt of a seated dancer.
Intense, sometimes very bright color surrounds the nebulous shapes in the artist's oil paintings. Foster starts with blue, red or green surfaces that she textures with a mixture of oil and beeswax. She then uses a palette knife to shape and smooth the glowing bodies that emerge from each densely worked color field.
The seven by eight foot Prestissimo exemplifies the artist's process. In Italian, the word "prestissimo" means "moving quickly." A mottled dark crimson backdrop lightens as it nears a female figure in motion. Her luminescence shifts and deepens from rose to peach to golden yellow in three subtle and fluid movements.
A smaller red-tinged composition, Calliope, captures the spirit of the poet's muse. Its female figure stands still, holding her head down and away from the viewer. A brilliant light emanates from the core of her body, echoing outward in increasingly yellow tones that turn to orange, fiery red and then finally burnt caramel.
Foster's work reveals a consistent desire to inscribe the figure with spirit and emotion -- not unlike Käthe Köllwitz, Anselm Kiefer and Rainer Fetting, who she cites as her artistic kin. The expressionistic freedom of her brush gives her images their musical quality, but their bursting energy stays immaculately self-contained -- not unlike Beethoven's powerful crescendos.