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Judith Foster | The Consul

Judith Foster is a name that resonates strongly here at the Penticton Art Gallery. She was an avid printmaker and painter who significantly impacted the art community here in the Okanagan, and other places she resided throughout her life.

In 2000, Judith lost her battle with cancer at the age of 69. She was born in Three Rivers, Michigan in 1930. She lived in New York for a long period of time, later moving to New Mexico and finally to the Okanagan in 1975. Along this journey, Judith accumulated a lengthy list of awards and accomplishments. She meticulously chronicled her life through her artworks, sketchbooks and letters, along with memories of those who knew her. Judith was never on the pursuit of fame, she was on the pursuit of excellence. She was a perfectionist with her work, with piles of notes attached to every work of art, sketchbooks filled to the margins. She was a recluse, and would up and move regardless of her fame and admirers in her current city. She was always keen on contributing to the art community whether it was donating or teaching; she inevitably left a mark on anyone who knew her or saw her works.

During her time in New York, Judith, a lover of the arts, ended up going to see Pulitzer Prize winning opera, The Consul composed by Gian-Carlo Menotti, starring Patricia Neway (1919-2012). The entire production resonated deeply with Judith as she went to see the production roughly 33 times afterwards. She was captivated by the emotional plot and the genius of Patricia Neway. Judith translated The Consul into about 45 paintings that capture the opera’s dark and powerful theme. Patricia and Judith became very good friends and wrote letters to one another, commenting on Neway’s performance, on Judy’s artwork, and on life in general. They kept in touch over the years, updating each other on their careers, families, along with standard holiday greetings.

Neway captivated audiences with her performance of Magda Sorel, a careworn wife and mother battling overwhelming bureaucracy, trying to flee an unnamed European city, for her family’s safety and freedom. Magda’s husband, John, is an enemy of the state and goes into hiding planning to flee the country. Magda goes to the Consulate of this unidentified country, hoping to emigrate legally so she and her family can begin a new life full of freedom and opportunity. This turns into hurdles of paperwork, forms, questionnaires, and applications from the Consulate Secretary, who is not helpful to anyone and she knows it. Magda takes her place amongst many other people facing other problems, waiting and lingering in the Consul’s office, hoping to see him, or hear good news. Meanwhile, Magda’s life takes a turn for the worse; her young child dies, and later, her husband’s mother who lives with them. The secret police are onto John, and closely watching Magda, who seems to spend her days at the Consulate. Magda edges closer to despair, and decides to end her life by turning on the gas oven in her apartment. John returns to rescue her, but he his arrested at the Consul’s office and it ends with the phone ringing in Magda’s apartment, it is the secretary at the Consulate, but it is too late.

This overwhelming notion of bureaucracy and the paper chase is something everyone can relate to in some shape or form. Unfortunately many deal with corruption and totalitarian ways on a daily basis and put their lives at stake for their freedom. This message resonated so strongly with Judith that she created this phenomenal series that showcases her techniques and styles that we can identify in her later paintings that are part of our permanent collection.

To my knowledge, this is some of Judith’s only figural work and for the first time in about 50 years these works are being shown together along with 2 we have tracked down from the estate of Patricia Neway and are generously on loan from their collections.

I want to thank Anna Vakar and Stuart Bish Photography for allowing us to showcase and have proper documentation of these amazing works by Judith. Thank you to Kevin & Jeff Twine and John Akahoshi for loaning us two works that were part of Patricia Neways collection from this series. Last but not least I would like to thank my team, Paul, Glenn, Brigitte and Jacinta, here at the gallery for their guidance, belief and support of me curating this exhibition.