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Dee Foster: art for conversation

By ZOË WATKINS - zwatkins@t-g.com
Posted 5/16/23

The goal of Dee Foster’s art is to spark conversation.

Looking at layers of acrylic paint and a “secret” medium, Foster achieves a “3DEE” effect. She said she hopes …

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Dee Foster: art for conversation


The goal of Dee Foster’s art is to spark conversation.

Looking at layers of acrylic paint and a “secret” medium, Foster achieves a “3DEE” effect. She said she hopes to invoke the viewer to experience emotions, thoughts, ideas, or even memories. That is, to take you on a trip.

“Abstract painting may not be for everyone, and that’s ok”, she says. For those who look at her work and ask, “What is it supposed to be?” Foster says her response is always, “Whatever you want it to be.

“You try to make the viewer continue to look at the piece,” said Foster.

From an early age, Foster said she has always loved color. Though she often wears black, her hands and her studio will always be splattered with paint of all colors.

Growing up on a farm in the Bedford area outside of Shelbyville, Foster recalls she was always doodling on church bulletins to keep her busy. Recognizing this and her love for creativity, Foster’s mother put her in painting classes at the Tullahoma Fine Arts Center when she was 10.

But she admits she wasn’t good at it. “They made me do still life paintings and I did not want to do a still life,” Foster recalled.

Still life paintings just weren’t her style. In fact, it would take decades before she knew exactly what her style would be. “That’s the hardest part about it,” she said. “Figuring out what to paint, then how to paint.”


But Foster’s art wasn’t always coming off the page. Instead, her art could be worn—on t-shirts for softball or volleyball games.

On a high school graduation trip to Daytona Beach, after she had graduated high school, Foster recalls watching a woman airbrush t-shirts. That love of color and the process of staining the t-shirt, mesmerized Foster. “I stood there for two hours and watched everything she did,” Foster said. She then bought herself an airbrush and taught herself how to use it.

While at the University of Tennessee studying graphic design, she paid her way through school by airbrushing sorority t-shirts in her dorm room.

She worked as an illustrator and graphic designer for years before her career took her to Texas where her airbrush was well received by softball and volleyball players during tournaments. “They had never seen anyone like me.”

“The best response I got was a softball player who made it a point to say to me, I really like the shirt you painted for me.”

Dee said knew she had done her job well.

A different color palette

Many may also be familiar with Foster as she has a booth at the Celebration where she sells horse paintings and designed screen print t-shirts.

But today, she has left the t-shirt business to focus on sculptural painting.

“The reason I started doing it was because I can do horse portraits all day. But I wanted to do something different…It was just a determination to find a style.

“I’m not a sculptor at all. But I thought this is fun; this is better than Play-Doh. And it’s evolved into something nobody’s ever seen before.”

The sculpting aspect of her paintings comes from using palette knives to sculpt the layers of “goop” as she calls it. “So, there’s a lot of me in my pieces,” she said. “To me, you have to actually touch and feel the paint going onto the wood panel to make it art.”

Some may view her newer work as “moody” as it has a darker and richer color palette than her other solo shows. “I loved the fluorescents I used to use in airbrushing t-shirts. Now it’s time to explore all those other colors…” she said.

Part of that darker palette also may be due to her listening to blues music while she works. Though darker, some of her pieces also have a layer of resin—something she was always nervous to try at first—which adds a shininess and pulls out the metallic and iridescent colors of the paint, allowing more depth to appear in the paintings.

She still incorporates airbrushing into many of pieces, often using the medium to create shadows.

Other pieces of her work reflect sunsets and sunrises inspired by the view right outside of her studio in the same place she grew up, which reflects the “country living” she still enjoys.

Though her work is very original, like every other artist, topping what you did last and remaining creative is a challenge. “It’s just trial and error,” said Foster. “I’ve scrapped off a few. I’ve even added layers on top of some that I thought were finished.”

When asked "How do you know when a painting is finished?” Foster replied, “That is the hardest part.” “The best thing I can do is walk away, then walk back in with fresh eyes, then decide that I’m done.”

It takes time. She works on about four or five pieces at a time as she waits for each piece to dry before adding more layers.

For example, one of her favorite pieces, “The Result,” was the “result” of hours of scrapping, and adding, scrapping, and adding even more layers of paint and sculpting medium. It was one of her more difficult pieces to complete due to those many wet layers of acrylic. But now complete, the piece takes the viewer’s eye on a journey through all the layers and depths.  

Towards the future

Through all the changes in her career and her artwork, Foster said her goals have always kept her persevering to the next level. For her, that next level is having a show opening in Nashville.

At 60 years old, this new chapter in her art is just the beginning.  “I don’t really think people need a reason to do art. There’s no politics in this. This is just stuff that feels good to me. It’s feel-good art.”

For now, her artwork can be viewed up close at the Tullahoma Arts Center, 401 South Jackson St., until May 27.

For more information, visit her website, https://www.deefosterfineart.com/.