Visual Arts

Retrospective pays tribute to 'phenomenal' art of the late Robert James Foose

Table Top, painted in 1993, was among Foose's last watercolor works.
Table Top, painted in 1993, was among Foose's last watercolor works. Lexington Herald-Leader

When Tom Clark heard about the death of Robert James Foose this fall, Clark thought someone should do something to recognize the work of the influential University of Kentucky art professor. So Clark did.

His Winchester Road shop, Clark Art & Antiques, has a retrospective up that, in a handful of images, shows the span of Foose's work from the early 1960s to the 21st century.

"He influenced probably a generation, a generation and a half of people here in Central Kentucky," Clark says, surveying the paintings culled from his collection and those of three other collectors.

Observing the first Foose painting he bought, an early 1960s image of a Newtown Pike house in the snow, Clark says, "Look at that. That's a wintertime snow scene in watercolor, and watercolors are so difficult to work with. His technique was phenomenal."

One of the reasons Foose gained a following was he painted Kentucky landscapes in ways that connected with viewers, such as a mid-1970s series of paintings of Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill near Harrodsburg.

Addison Franklin Page, former director of Louisville's Speed Museum of Art, wrote of Foose's work: "What it is that makes one respond to a place or a person is sometimes difficult to recognize, but in the case of Foose and Shakertown, one senses a kinship based on quiet order, clean lines and a notable lack of involvement in the complexities of urban life."

Clark compares Foose's early work to that of iconic American painter Andrew Wyeth and then says, "Of course, I could never afford a Wyeth." (One of Wyeth's paintings recently offered at Keeneland's Sporting Art Auction was valued at more than $5 million.)

Not surprisingly, Wyeth was cited by Foose as an influence.

Raised in Pennsylvania, Foose graduated from UK with a bachelor of fine arts degree in 1963.

He returned to UK in 1984 and became one of the area's most prolific and frequently exhibited artists in shows of his own work and in group shows. His work has been exhibited in places that often don't display a lot of local artists, including The Art Museum at the University of Kentucky, which featured Foose in 2002, and Cross Gate Gallery, which generally concentrates on international sporting artists.

Clark says that since opening the exhibit last month, a number of former students and associates of Foose have come to see it.

The show represents a drop in the bucket of Foose's prodigious output, but Clark's exhibit clearly shows the line in one of the biggest turns in Foose's career, when he moved from watercolors to oils.

"I had gone as far as I could go in watercolor," Foose said in a 1996 interview with the Herald-Leader. "And, you know, people still think of me as a painter of old barns and angry skies, even though I haven't painted those things in 15 years. It really started to irritate me, and I just felt the need to do something else."

Some of that later work included still lifes that even a guy like Clark, who says he doesn't much fancy still lifes, appreciates.

"It's phenomenal work," he says, "and it should be seen."


Robert James Foose retrospective

What: A selection of works by late UK art professor and art department chair

When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Dec. 20-22, 27-29, Jan. 2-5 and 8-12

Where: Clark Art & Antiques, 801 Winchester Rd.

Phone: (859) 361-2147