Sean Nosek had been cruising the streets of Vancouver’s notorious Downtown Eastside looking for the street artist, but with no luck.
Then, while looking for parking to go see a Vancouver Canucks game, on a rainy night, he saw an obvious painter who looked like he must be the guy.
With some fast moves and a bit of determination, he quickly tracked Ken Foster down, and introduced himself.
“He looked very disheveled, and splattered with paint,” remembers Nosek.
“He was like a human Jackson Pollock painting.”
The former principal of Thomas Haney secondary said he wanted to commission a painting by the man who was gaining some local fame for painting on found materials, and gave Foster $50, with the promise of another $50 when it was done. He slipped the artist a piece of paper with his phone number on it.
He thought he would never see him again. They weren’t friends, yet.
Two weeks later, he got that phone call he hadn’t really expected. Soon, an “unlikely friendship” was forged.
Foster is a Vancouver celebrity people hope to encounter, explained Nosek. He is homeless, he suffers a serious drug addiction and probably mental illness. His paintings, though, have brought him notice in a world that most people turn away from.
His work is in the Jackie Chan movie Rumble in Bronx. He also painted the graffiti and religious iconography for a video produced by the Rolling Stones.
“It’s got an edge, and an anti-establishment quality that is informed by some real talent,” said Nosek.
“Collectors recognize it as pretty impressive stuff.”
Nosek met Foster four years ago, and as they talked, the two men found they have a lot in common.
They are about the same age, graduated in the late 1980s, and are educated. Foster attended college and did a year at Emily Carr.
Nosek taught literature, and his blog Zen for a Crazy World has attracted international attention. Both men are by their nature creative spirits, with a rebellious nature – “his a little more obvious,” said Nosek.
But one man lives in the suburbs of Maple Ridge, as a respected educator. Nosek was well known in Maple Ridge as the popular principal of Thomas Haney secondary, a school that offers student-directed learning, and has been toured by educators from around the world.
In 2014, he was chosen for Canada’s Outstanding Principals Award from the Learning Partnership. He was one of 40 people across Canada to receive the honour. For the past four years, he has worked as associate superintendent with West Vancouver Schools.
The other lives on the streets, hanging out in Canada’s most notorious neighbourhood, for two decades eking out an existence by painting. He hangs out in places with names like Blood Alley, but produces art every day, not letting anything go for less than $20.
“There was an appeal for both of us in bringing together two worlds that couldn’t be more disparate,” said Nosek.
Foster does not want anyone trying to save him. There is no rehab in the immediate future.
“Ken is, at this point, not interested in what others might perceive as a Hollywood ending.”
But Nosek pitched to Foster that he would write his story, and Foster could illustrate it.
The book was published on Sept. 1, by Granville Island Publishers, and there was a launch event on Sept. 11. Indigo, Chapters and Amazon have all agreed to carry it.
“We’re super excited to see this book, which is part biography, part ‘Adventures on the Downtown Eastside in the SRO World’, and part art project.”
He called it a legacy piece, and Foster’s paintings for the book nothing short of stunning.
His work is all over Vancouver on walls and pieces of cardboard, but now it’s someplace anyone can find it.
“It’s something that puts his work on record.”
Nosek says in promoting the book:
“We believe that people crave something real, something with a story, and not something cookie cutter. Although Ken has trained formally, this man has honed his craft on the mean streets, painting to survive. What is more, his paintings are gritty and powerful and depict the city like no one else can. When you see a Ken Foster alleyway painting, you know it’s coming from someone who has been there. It doesn’t get much more real than that.”
It’s called: Ken Foster’s Vancouver: The Coolest Coffee Table Book Ever.