Scott Foster jokes he’s the guy who gets in trouble at museums for touching everything.
“It’s like ‘Oh I need to touch that!’ I’m a very tactile person and painting and drawing just doesn’t have that same satisfaction to me,” he said.
That’s why Foster says he became a sculptor and puppet maker instead of picking up brushes, oils and a palette.
“Painting or drawing is an illusion of something in the real world where sculpture is something in the real world,” he explained.
Foster’s Gaston, Oregon, studio doubles as a museum of sorts for his past projects which range from the bright and elaborate, to wondrous and weird.
On one wall, you might find a sculpture of a waitress holding a plate of doughnuts from famous Portland shop Pip’s Original. But on another, you might be greeted with the heads of Kentucky Fried Chicken mascot Colonel Sanders on a shelf.
Foster’s career is as varied as his artwork.
After leaving the University of Oregon in 1992, Foster worked as a special effects artist in Minneapolis. He returned to Portland in 1996 to pursue his sculpting career.
“I felt like the art was a little bit more accessible here. And there was still the old guard in Minneapolis, and it seemed like all the galleries were still conservative and that wasn’t the direction I wanted to go with my art,” he said.
While living in Portland, he found work as a sculptor and concept artist with renowned animation studio LAIKA. Foster took the concept drawings from the animators and turned them into three dimensional sculptures using clay.
“I got to work on sculpting characters for ‘Coraline.’ I worked on Mr. Bobinsky and Forcible and a bunch of side characters. I also worked on the movie ‘The Boxtrolls’ and that was fun.”
Foster generally does commercial work, where he’s commissioned to create pieces for clients like Travel Portland or national advertisements like Fruity Pebbles cereal. But when he has free time, he’ll work on his own personal projects, where he can more freely experiment with different materials like metal or steel.
While he does enjoy doing commercial work, he admits they don’t offer a lot of room for creativity, at least not in the way his personal projects do.
“You are given an assignment basically and you have to work within the parameters of what is expected. It’s kind of like school,” he said. “And then my personal works have the freedom to do whatever I want.”
One personal project that has been percolating in the back of his mind for years is his “Watcher” series, a group of sculptures depicting long-necked, thin, almost alien-like creatures staring down at the world, their noses pointed upward.
Foster says they represent the arrogance of humanity.
“The Watchers were originally conceived back in 1993. They’ll sit there and watch the world die without lifting a finger and it just seems like I had to revisit that nowadays. Because back when I originally made them, I thought maybe the world would change but instead they just careen down the same path.”
His latest version in the series is an 8-foot Watcher made out of Styrofoam and resin. The project took several months to complete, and can be seen in Lake Oswego’s Gallery Without Walls, a public art program that showcases Oregon artists’ sculptures throughout the city.
Although he intended to create the Watchers for himself, his friend and fellow artist Mike Suri convinced him to apply for Gallery Without Walls so he could get his name out more publicly and show people his sculptures on a larger scale.
Foster hopes to eventually put his sculptures in a garden surrounding his property so that guests can come and enjoy his work out in the open.
Foster moved to Gaston from Portland in 2020, which gave him the necessary space and quiet atmosphere to work on bigger projects like the Watcher.
“I would never have built that Watcher back at my Mississippi Ave. studio [in Portland] because I wouldn’t have had any place to put it. It would’ve taken all my resource space. Having a bigger shop allows me to work larger and allows me to have a place to put things when I make it!”
But even though his Watcher series tends to lean on a more serious theme regarding his thoughts about humanity, he wants people to come up with their own conclusions when they view his work. And ultimately, he wants them to come away with a sense of awe.
“Maybe they find a little bit of sense of magic in the creative process or in the item. Like, is it a thing or a concept? It’s both. I just hope it moves them in some way, hopefully towards joy.”