Robert Foster

Prominent designer and artist Robert Foster made an extraordinary contribution to contemporary design and silversmithing in Australia and internationally.

Best known for his iconic Fink water jug, which retails at major stores internationally, Foster designed some of the most visually engaging objects in the National Gallery of Australia's contemporary Australian craft and design collection. The water jug is among a number of Fink + Co's production objects that have been acquired by the NGA to show the scope of Foster's work as a designer and maker in forging new dimensions in object design until his untimely death on 13 July 2016.

Born in 1962 in Kyneton in Victoria, Foster completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Gold and Silversmithing) at the Canberra School of Art in 1981, studying with the Norwegian silversmith Ragnar Hansen and German silversmith Johannes Kuhnen. He was the founder and chief designer of Fink + Co, a design and manufacturing company established in 1993 in Queanbeyan, New South Wales, to produce metal and glass tableware, jewellery, decorative objects and lighting. His works are held in major public collections including the NGA, the Victoria & Albert Museum, London and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Although production-ware comprised a large proportion of Foster's output, he made unique objects for exhibition that often provided further impetus for his production work. Favouring materials such as anodised aluminium and stainless steel, his experiments with technique and process led to innovative methods of shaping metals such as explosion forming and water forming, which allowed him to efficiently create a wider variety of forms from which to develop standardised production objects. He used form, texture and colour to create a unique design vocabulary that distinguished his work.

Foster's earliest work in the national collection is his The turtle teapot 1995, a double-spouted teapot. With a visual and tactile quality that enhances the metal's colour and lustre, this engaging object invites the hand to test its balance while pouring, and highlights Foster's formidable metalworking skills. This investigation into the teapot form continued in his sculptural yet functional Emerald odyssey teapot 2008. Its highly polished stainless steel body, in the shape of a large droplet of liquid and incorporating an almost imperceptible circular lid, is pierced by an iridescent green aluminium parabolic tube, serving as a handle at one end and a spout at the other.

Foster and his design collaborators often drew on twentieth-century Scandinavian modernist design traditions, juxtaposing the soft organic forms of the natural world with abstracted linear geometric components. Cornucopia 2014 is a work in silver, a more complex interpretation of the fluid, organic form associated with his work in less precious metals. Its informal open-ended shape, appearing to be made from lightweight crumpled silver paper, downplays the rigorous craftsmanship required to achieve such visual effortlessness with a hard metal such as silver.

Foster's approach to form was also influenced by his work for some of the world's most innovative design companies such as Alessi in Italy, where he designed and prototyped teapots in 1996 and 2000, and Ingo Maurer in Germany, where he designed lighting prototypes in 2000. Foster regularly worked in collaboration with Australian designers and makers, including Sean Booth, Bronwen Riddiford, Elizabeth Kelly, Rachel Bowak, Oliver Smith, Rohan Nicol, Jonathan Baskett and Marie Hagerty. Many objects designed over the past 20 years are still in production. Experiments in lighting and large-scale works have manifested in commissioned works, some of which can be seen in public venues in Canberra, including the NGA's Members Lounge.

Robert Foster will be greatly missed. We will remember his great contribution to design with a display of his works from the collection at the NGA.

Images (top to bottom):

Robert Foster, Emerald odyssey teapot 2005 stainless steel: hot-formed, welded, abraided and polished; aluminium: machined, bent and anodised, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 2005

Robert Foster, Jug 1988 anodised aluminium, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased from Gallery admission charges 1988

Robert Foster, Cornucopia 2014 silver: press-forged, hand-beaten, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 2015

Robert Foster, The turtle teapot 1995 stainless steel, aluminium, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, purchased 1995

Banner image: Robert Foster with a Fink + Co water jug

Six works by Robert Foster on show now, Level 1.