ST. ALBANS — One of Artist in Residence’s featured artists for the month of August, Alex Foltz, 23, of St. Albans, decided to forgo a formal education in art, realizing he preferred to self-teach, draw inspiration from his role models and develop his skills through trial and error.
With a small studio set up in Just the Place on South Main Street, Foltz splits his days painting commissioned pieces and working part-time at the Franklin County Rehab Center.
Foltz said he wouldn’t be where he is today without the influence of his stepfather, Delano Bransfield, of Franklin, who encouraged his artistic hobbies and made him realize that art could be something he pursued full-time.
Up until he was eight years old, Foltz primarily drew and painted as a hobby. When his stepfather came into the picture, “He saw some real potential in it so he encouraged me to continue moving forward,” Foltz said.
Foltz’s stepfather was an artist in his own right. “A pretty good one,” Foltz said. “He had tons and tons of charcoal work just hanging around and I loved the look of it.”
His stepdad encouraged Foltz to drop the regular graphite pencil and pick up the charcoal and join him. From eight to 12 years old, Foltz said he and his stepdad could often be found side-by-side drawing or sculpting. “Art took a step up from being a hobby to something I was interested in getting better at and honing my skill set,” he said.
For a time, Foltz worked exclusively in charcoal because it was “easy to manipulate” and gave him the “darkest blacks,” adding depth to the pieces of work. Later in his teens, he began drawing and sketching with charcoal for commission, sometimes even at the request of strangers, which was “always the most rewarding,” he said.
It was when he moved to South Carolina at 13 years old that Foltz began to try other artistic mediums. His art teacher saw a lot of potential in him and kind of just let him have free reign of the art room and the more advanced art supplies.
Foltz began to try his hand at painting, chipping away at it, but often returning to the comfort of charcoal. “It was really me just dipping my toes into stuff to see what I liked and what I didn’t,” he said.
Three years ago, Foltz began to seriously pick up the paintbrush. Preferring realism and portraiture, his muses are anyone who sparks his interest. “They have something to say in the way that they look,” Foltz said, about the people he paints. “If you see them on the street, you might pass them by, but if you see them in a painting, you might actually stop and take a look and really see who the person is without worrying about being judged or being invasive. And I think that’s kind of special.”
“I mean, I’ve always been fascinated with people,” he continued. “I just thought it was interesting that you could look at a thousand different people and their faces might only be the slightest bit different, but you can always tell them apart.”
“And it’s really difficult to capture that on a piece of paper,” Foltz said, “so it was always the biggest challenge for me. I think that’s why I gravitated more towards that than anything else.”
Foltz said he paints both from photographs and live models; he has less experience with the latter, but likes it a whole lot more. “They’re two completely different things,” he said. “When working from a photo, it’s more like drawing. When working from life, it’s like sculpting.”
Foltz took the explanation one step further. With a photo, all the information the artist has to work with is laid out on a two dimensional surface. The artist can’t move around and look at the subject from different angles. Foltz said the painting process is comparable to a coloring book because he finds himself following the lines and filling them in with colors.
Working from life allows Foltz more freedom, defining the subject using color and form, instead of lines. It also allows him to choose what his focus is and what aspects of the subject he wants to accentuate.
When he first began painting, Foltz said he wanted bright, vivid colors. “I’m finding that I prefer more true to life colors [now]… with loose brush work so you can see the strokes and you can kind of see the intention in what I was doing,” he said.
This style is evident in the piece he painted for the Artist in Residence People’s Choice competition. The artists were invited to create a piece of artwork that represented their interpretation of “courageous speech,” with the public voting on their favorite. The first thing that came to Foltz’s mind were tattoos and the alternative look because those people are outspoken with their style and might get undeservedly ridiculed for it.
Foltz asked one of his former co-workers at 84 Main to model for him, with her half shaved bright blue hair, piercings and multiple tattoos. Foltz painted her gazing out of a window, wanting to portray an innocent moment with a character that people might not expect to fit the bill.
Even though the woman has blue hair and tattoos, “it doesn’t mean she doesn’t go home and look out her window and just wonder,” he said.
“Every time I pick up the paint brush now, I feel like I have to learn something,” he said, because the challenge of new and different keeps his attention. “There’s a satisfaction to figuring it out,” that gets lost when his subject matter is easy to capture and paint, he said.
It’s this love of a challenge and self-teaching that Foltz discovered when he was applying to art schools during his senior year of high school. Still living in South Carolina at the time, Foltz applied to the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia, which according to Foltz, was “the school he aspired to go to pretty much his entire life.”
When he was accepted but didn’t get the necessary grants or scholarships, Foltz took a step back to figure out his finances. It was during this waiting period that Foltz realized he preferred to learn about art and grow as an artist on his own.
“I had made a lot of progress by myself I think,” he said. “It was just more rewarding.” On top of that, Foltz said he had a handful of people with artistic backgrounds who saw potential in his work and thought he would be successful even without a degree.
“If I hadn’t had those role models, I have absolutely no doubt that I wouldn’t be painting,” he said. “There’s no question about it to me that, if they hadn’t been there, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
“It was always nice to have somebody who is patient, like my stepdad,” he said, who would take the time to look critically at his work and provide feedback. “The good thing about a role model is you always know what you’re aiming for because if you don’t, you’re just shooting in the dark and hoping you get it right.”
“If I didn’t have people’s input, I’d never really know what’s a hit or what’s a miss,” Foltz said.
Over time his role models have changed, from friends and family to famous artists like Zimou Tan, Mark Carder and Ben Lustenhouwer as well as some of the old masters like John Singer Sargent, Vermeer and Rembrandt. Foltz said he continuously draws inspiration from them, trying to apply what he likes about their style and techniques to his own work.
“It’s really just trial and error,” he said. For every painting that gets hung on the wall, there’s a few that just didn’t make the cut… “Do I think I’ll ever be as good as Rembrandt or Vermeer? Not necessarily. But if I can come even close, then I think I’ve done something right.”
When looking around the walls and shelves of the gallery Artist in Residence, Foltz said his art is “not the most original stuff” people have ever seen. “Some of the stuff in here is just pure creativity and comes straight from people’s imagination,” he said.
Preferring realism, Foltz said he feels like his art is a way for him to show other people things that he thinks are beautiful. “They might not, but I do and maybe if I present it the right way then they will too,” he said. “I think that’s important, to find beauty in very simple things that you might overlook day to day.”
Alex Foltz can be reached at www.facebook.com/afoltzportraits/.