Arts, On Campus, Featured Story

Through the Lens With Billy Foshay

Art is a mirror. As artists point their cameras out into the world, spin their brushes about the canvas, and bring life to their otherwise cold instruments, it is unsurprising that their work continues to hold meaning long after the last snap, brush stroke, or note. Art is a personal labor of love, making it an abundant resource of materials infused with personality. Finding out more about ourselves is rarely the goal, but instead a happy coincidence.

Much like mirrors and reflections, we may catch glimpses of ourselves in the pursuit of other things. William Foshay, CSOM ’16, explores ideas of self-perception, discovery, and growth through his new Carney Hall gallery, Ori (Beginnings). Through a number of compelling photographs, sculptures, and mixed media displays, Foshay shows that, often, the person behind the camera is as important as those on the other side of it. In an age when identity crises manifest themselves throughout our culture through topics of race, gender, sexuality, and purpose in life,  Foshay grasps at our shifting selfhood in an ever changing world.

His work is broad and expansive. From aesthetic photos of paint and water, to a performance in film, to composite images of personal notebooks and journals, Ori (Beginnings) covers a lot of visual ground and viewers will find themselves pulled from piece to piece across the gallery.

To understand his work, it is important to examine the process Foshay goes through in fleshing out an idea. Much of his work is laced with ideas about identity and consciousness, but these tend to be discovered later on, as a simple dose of curiosity usually dictates where his artistic projects lie. Foshay does not set out expressly to make art other people will like. Instead, he uses art as a medium to explore ideas and interests.


“It’s about following a curiosity that you have,” Foshay said. “I didn’t really understand the importance of some projects until a little bit later.” As he pursues ideas, Foshay prefers acting spontaneously, then doubling back and asking why he was attracted to a project or image.

“A little of it is about trusting your subconscious,” he said. “There has got to be a reason why I’m choosing to do this over something else.”

These kinds of spontaneous, tangential pursuits lead to a more genuine sense of artistic discovery. Sometimes the purpose is not found in the concept of an idea, but in the pursuit of it—actions speak louder than words. And in this way, it is no wonder so many of Foshay’s pieces contain personal elements, though they are not overtly present from the beginning of a project. It is through this kind of unearthing process that Foshay finds the more meaningful aspects of his art and by proxy himself and the world around him.

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And thus discovery comes in retrospect. In his photograph compilation In Between, Foshay captured images of people walking through doors. The idea behind the piece was literally to capture people walking through doors, an act so banal people are rarely conscious of the action. To sate a curiosity, observing unconscious action, Foshay set out to capture it.

“We never say or think ‘I’m walking through a door right now’,” Foshay said. But people became aware of him snapping pictures as they passed.

“I brought consciousness to them walking through the door,” he said.

While some of the people he photographed continued on, others covered their faces, and one man admonished Foshay for taking his picture. Even that was interesting to him, he said.

“You are kind of bringing observation to his own life,” he said. […] “What would his experience have been like if I wasn’t there?” His part was integral to the piece in its final state. The process, in this way, is as important as the final work. Beauty is inherent in images, but a story does not end once an image has been seized. The In Between collection, like many other pieces, is shaped by an ongoing sense of discovery. It is a foray into observing and being observed on both sides of the camera, as the title suggests.

Though Foshay is able to flesh out his place and meaning in relation to his art, his work serves as more than just a venture into self-introspection. His work speaks as much about his own personal journey as it does about the human condition in general. “Who am I?” and “What do I think I am?” are questions Foshay is trying to tackle or at least wrestle with. It’s almost as though the midlife crisis hits you when you are young.

The digital age seems to impede attempts to answer these questions. This kind of lens can be attributed to several of Foshay’s works, like Untitled Demonstration I, a performance art piece in which Foshay attempts to paint a self-portrait using a brush on a long pole. The three panels of footage, stacked vertically, capture his face, the length of the pole, and the portrait. Proving difficult, the portrait undergoes revisions and scrapped drafts as Foshay becomes more dissatisfied with the results. Speaking to ideas of digital profiles and the discord between crafting oneself and the reality of oneself, this visual shows the ungainly pole—digital media—is ineffective at communicating the portrait of himself.

Another work projects a digital scan of Foshay’s face onto a grainy television. His face is present, and the grainy oscillations of the TV screen give it the appearance of life, but leave an unsettling feeling. A projection of a scan. An abstraction of an abstraction. The notion evinced is striking as it calls into mind the effects media has on our fundamental existential questions.

“There is more and more documentation of who we are, and yet the question is bigger than ever,” Foshay said.

Many of his other pieces speak to these ideas of identity, self, and self-discovery on distinct, fascinating levels—not only in the context of the digital age, but in our interpersonal relationships and memories. Foshay’s works are truly multifaceted, giving different vantage points on these same fundamental questions in indirect and provocative ways.

The dynamism of artistic pieces may lead to interpretations as diverse and varied as those who create them. Speaking on how others view his work, Foshay stated that despite their intimate nature others may find meanings completely different from his own.

“I think people sometimes in your art look for a point, ‘Well, what are you trying to say?’ […] but I just like to show where I’m at, what I’m investigating and what I’m interested in,” he said, motioning around the gallery. “And maybe someone else sees this and thinks, I never thought about it that way. You start making new knowledge.”

Foshay’s work is raw and emotional, leaving ample room for contemplative discussions. His pieces are as much striking images as testaments to the process behind creation and creativity. In the existential age, as we become distorted and obscured by mirrors and false reflections, when selfhood is constantly assailed, multiple voices searching for the same answers can help untangle the mess.

“For some reason there is something in your head saying, this is important, this means something to you,” he said. “People looking and people talking about it can help you to see that.”

Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Editor

April 13, 2016

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