Tara Foley is originally from New York City’s Lower East Side; Tara is the only child of two artistic hippies and grew up enamored with subway car graffiti in the 80’s. She received her BA from Sarah Lawrence College where she spent a semester abroad in Ghana. After graduation Tara explored Asia for four years, living mainly in Japan as an English teacher and India where she learned traditional metalsmithing. Not expecting to reside in the US again, Tara visited San Francisco and has been seduced by the place into calling it home for the past nine years.
Tara exhibits regularly in local galleries and non-profits. She considers herself an artist and an advocate of youth involvement in the arts. She is currently the Artists In Education Program Manager at Southern Exposure. Tara has worked extensively with diverse populations in the social work field, mental health, women’s shelters, group homes, hospitals and as a teacher.
"In my practice I am sifting through a repertoire of contemporary and historical images, generating 2D, sculptural and installation works. I imagine my process as analogous to what happens in both urban and environmental spaces: environments are changed by a combination of human and natural forces. I draw from varied but recognizable iconography – French gothic and baroque architecture, Mudejar tracery, Alexandrian geometry, the monumental, the infinitesimal, the natural, and the scientific. I create abstract narratives that explore the tension between the natural and the manufactured, examining new spaces and realms, oscillating between the public and the private, the micro and the macro.
My work is informed by an interest in psychology and architecture. A particular source of inspiration is the Anti-Design movement of the 1960’s and 70’s, especially the work of the British group Archigram and the Italian studios Archizoom. Their work has an interdisciplinary approach, addressing the fields of architecture, urban planning, design, human ecology and phenomenology, all of which are interests in my practice. Reflecting on their work, I have begun a new series called Pairings, The Dripstone Sings to the Choir pieces being the first of this series that I have exhibited. Pairings is a collaborative project that explores professions centered around the relationship between humans and their natural, social, and built environments. I have met with an urban designer, an architect, a regional planner, and a transportation planner. After a conversation about a project that they have worked on, I make a conglomerate artwork based on that project, creating a mutation, a fragmentation of their ideas in a realm that I have internalized. In this collaborative learning process, I incorporate a visual vernacular of landscape; transferring and transforming shared ideas into another context, giving them another life. This project is not limited to a particular medium, I am interested in exploring sculpture, installation, 2D work and working on larger projects involving the urban environment."
ESSAY by Aimee Le Duc
"When we look at maps, it is to visualize place in a specific way. Our minds can shift back and forth between scale, easily comprehending that one inch equals one mile or that colors represent depth, that lines divide countries and in turn, cultures. We need these kinds of symbols in our lives. They help us create systems of movement, ways to come to new places and to reorient ourselves to our most familiar spots. Maps also reveal imagined states and ways of thinking that do not exist in the lived world or give us a direction toward a better way to comprehend the spaces in which we do live. Mapping is also a metaphor, a way of cataloging the symbols we use to navigate not just physically but also mentally and emotionally. We can map our histories, our relationships, our memories and movements.
Tara Foley is all too aware of the concepts of mapping and although her drawings, installation and sculpture play with these concepts initially, her work peels away any and all distances between where we are and how we are mapping place; between how we move our bodies and the signs and symbols that direct us one way or another. Foley is revealing what lies beneath the mapping and the representations. She is assembling an architecture of shifting thoughts.
Foley’s use of architecture can be seen as a metaphor for her entire practice, as a fitting model to use as a point of entry into her drawings, sculpture and installation. Often times, architecture can be seen as a model imposed on others to dictate how they live, how they move. But architecture can also be exquisitely sensitive, a form that follows the body and the way we interact with others. Tara’s work straddles both of these possibilities. Her work takes existing models and transforms them into places never seen or imagined; creating landscapes that are both familiar and unexpected; both strange and inviting. The details suggest deeply thought out systems of signs and symbols that expose our subconscious intentions but also reveal ways in which we ought to coexist with others.
This current body of work comes out of long conversations Tara has had with experts in fields having to do with the built environment. She spoke with an architect, a regional planner and an urban planner. Foley wanted to talk to people who dedicate themselves to systems of public order. She chose people working in fields outside of her own to break open new ways of thinking, to create for herself access into new worlds of thought, and ultimately, to expand her artistic practice.
Her painstakingly intricate work reveals buildings that stand on arms and legs, bound together with hair and memories. Body parts seemingly function as legend in her work for fantastical yet deeply grounded maps and dream states, for exhaustive patterns and seductive organic shapes all pointing to a false binary between all of these concepts. Foley’s work doesn’t merge them all together – it shows the viewer that they were never truly divided. Through her conversations, her research, her work as both an educator and an artist she searches in all aspects of her life for unity rather than division – hoping to suggest that there are no divisions after all.
Playing with scale, Foley creates landscapes and buildings with such detail and sharpness that entire universes can be found in the smallest of shapes. The color paints visceral and passionate narratives as much as it points to the grand abstractions of nature and our own limbs and hair. Foley’s images are influenced by her curiosity of spiritual symbols, the enraging stories of sweeping political movements and the physical labor that made the divine scale of Renaissance churches possible. All of this is apparent even in the minutia of intimate moments she includes within her vast and deep work.
What makes The Dripstone Sings to the Choir so compelling is that it a collection searching for deep grounding but is also rooted in that very same deep ground. It is a product from open-ended dialogs between an artist and other thinkers in the most sincere manner. This multidisciplinary approach from the outset is bridging the gap between art making and other practices. The resulting visual objects created are haunting in their honesty and the vibrancy of composition but they also embody a type of loneliness. The images depict body parts but no people, massive buildings and environments but few clear destinations. This is by no means a criticism of Tara Foley’s work. On the contrary, the cavernous areas she creates might very well be the very architecture we are seeking to shift our thoughts as well as our acts."
-Aimee Le Duc, March 2011
curator, critic, gallery director
San Francisco Arts Commission