Fighting Its Corner: Rachel Foister

Finding a Place for Realism and the Return of Magic in Contemporary Painting

Rachel Foister

I am a realist painter, what you see is what you get. Or at least so I thought…

Music pounds and sweat steams. The air is thick with the odour of male sweat, stale clothing and the heavy thud of punch after punch. Aggressive, liberated and human, each punch is unavoidably powerful and raw. Far from the genteel mark making and refined quietude of a traditional studio space, I perch on the edge of a boxing ring with charcoal and paper and grapple with the inescapably in-your-face real.

Some time later and it is evening on a fight night. The air in the tight-packed room is electric with a tension I have never experienced before and find hard to describe; a vibration, a low hum, building and building to a frantic scream of pure energy. Visceral, brutal – sweat, saliva and blood splatter as the punches land and the crowd bay for more.

By training I paint slowly, deliberately, each brush mark guided with precision in its devotion to form and space, its refusal to embrace its human origins and its maker’s agency. The studio atmosphere is saintly and transcendental… and, at times, incredibly frustrating. Seeking the feverish bloodlust of the canvas clad floor of the boxing ring I feel anger at the apparent sterility of my art making environment. To put on boxing gloves, dip each moulded fist in paint and punch the wall in a blurring fury of right hooks and upper-cuts is the work of a moment and the liberation of the decade. As the paint dries – splattered across the wall – it is transformed, rendered harmless, castrated. The work – if it could be called such a thing – was momentary, but its denatured imprint is abiding.

With a renewed vigour I approach boxing with the eagle-eyed gaze of an investigative journalist. I interview boxers, chat with their trainers. I collect video footage, taken at the gym, during fight sequences, from boxing websites, films and YouTube clips and photograph boxers in the heat and violence of bouts. Blurry images from low resolution mobile phone cameras and the hasty brushmarks of Indian ink sketches, lusty and intrusive, even violent in the making. Visual information is scanned and captured, filtered through online media and glitching printers, oil paint and charcoal in a blur of data capture and transfer, mediation and filters. Immediacy and violence become transformed as I surf the imagery of a William Gibson-esque cyber-art-space of sensation. Fast to slow, hasty to studied, peripheral gaze to concentrated stare and a magic starts to unfold. The immediacy of the fighting bout transforms, not as the froideur of a detached and mediated despair, but like a heat seeking missile, violent, direct and filled with fury.

I am a realist painter, what you see is what you get and a whole lot more besides.

With thanks to the owners and boxers at Vk’s Gym, Bognor Regis, UK and Le Club de Boxe Savate, Monflanquin, France.