Uwe Foehring moved to Ottawa 25 years ago, he lived an adventurous life in international development, living and working in many countries which he found more meaningful than in private industry. He was influenced and amazed by the new cultures that he encountered. He saw art was a common language that is cherished in every society, regardless of riches or development. His first placement in Malawi, southern Africa, was rich in beautiful people who have integrated art in their daily lives, applying pictures and reliefs on their clay houses. Foehring says he never really learned the local language, but surely understood their art.
In his earlier years, he had a friend in Germany, Ludwig Brumme, who was a successful stone sculptor. Their conversations and interactions planted ideas and shapes in Foehring’s head that he drew upon many years later. He turned those dormant ideas into stone when he started carving about 15 years ago. Although he had not received any formal training in the arts, he looked to courses to improve certain skills, whenever he felt the need to refine his craft.
Working in stone has a powerful emotional connection for him. He has also tried his hand at building sculpture in cement, and more recently in ice and snow. Each of these mediums requires a different set of skills and experience, but Foehring remains focused on stone carving.
To obtain raw stone can be quite costly. When living in Sri Lanka for 3 years in various work assignments, Foehring admired beautiful Sri Lankan works made from cheap cement. Naturally, being a creative soul, he tested the skills needed to build up a work in cement, so different from carving which requires removing stone. However, cement was a good alternative for him, especially for larger sculptures. At a Colombo art school, he found a teacher for large cement sculptures, Upali Ananda, who agreed to have the students build a Moai. Although the teacher didn’t speak any English and Foehring doesn’t speak Sinhala, they connected. Working with ones’ hands and the language of art doesn’t necessarily require words.
He often visualizes a final outcome before starting. But the longer he ruminates on that image the more it changes. But that’s only the first step in the artistic process. Another is to adapt the image to paper or stone or a musical instrument, where again it is changed by the tools and media we use, our personality, the mood of the day and who knows what else…. This, in essence, is ‘Expressionism. An expressionist will accept all these influences as part of reality and as part of their art pieces. For Uwe Foehring, art is a language that expresses things that he cannot say verbally. Even if the viewer does not understand the meaning right away, she will see that he has a message. He does not carve stone to show his beautiful skills. Foehring appreciates the freedom to do his own thing. He loves the crazy and comical – Marx Brothers and Freewheeling Franklin. He has no big ambitions or plans – until a new idea sparks his imagination.
When Foehring starts a stone carving, he usually has a rough idea of what he wants to create, but he says that at some point in the process his hands take over from his brain in the shaping process. Sometimes too, news events, injustices, nature or other factors may influence the outcome. Cement sculpture requires more planning and preparation – setting up the form work using wire of different strengthsand internal fill to reduce the thickness and weight of the cement while still providing the needed structural stability. Then he needs to mix the cement ingredients and apply it to the work at the right time so that it doesn’t end up sliding onto the floor.
For anyone wanting to start on the sculpture pathway, he is clear – practice, practice, practice, as with any skill. Foehring explains that skills and art are two different things – you can be the most skilful craftsman without being an artist. Art is in the urge to bring a message across while craft is the vehicle, however imperfect, to deliver the message. No matter what the art form, music, acting, painting, the message can be the same, but the skill-set will be different.
Uwe’s final message is ‘’Be in charge of your own training – don’t let market forces or fashion or teachers tell you what is good and proper art.’’