Great stories, from the comic to the tragic, are born from conflict. Boy gets girl, boy loses girl; Man versus Nature; Man versus himself: these are the recurring dramatic archetypes that reel through Lora Fosberg’s drawings. Using primarily ink and gouache on found paper—old ledgers, diaries and prescription pads—Fosberg renders the small struggles of daily existence. Each page, browned with age, features a single scenario, a distilled symbol or a glimpse through a small frame of the mind that Fosberg has captured. The pages are then pasted side-by-side on large canvases, four-by-five feet, like a jumbled storyboard. It is fitting, then, that Fosberg has collected ten years’ worth of drawings and canvases in a book, a format that underscores the narrative aspect of her work.
A motif in Fosberg’s drawings concerns man’s place in nature. Fosberg doesn’t rely on personal anecdotes to relate this conflict. Instead, she culls the stock from her iconography, as she calls it, to represent the constant push and pull between civilized discipline and wild freedom: Man versus Nature. Voices float through the drawings: Why do I keep doing it to myself; Here is where it’s gonna count; Don’t smoke Don’t drink Don’t think; Now Never What? When? The stream of banter keeps us inhibited, and in check. On the opposite shore, so to speak, of Fosberg’s iconography, rowboats are constantly stuck in choppy waters and one-man airplanes seem to always be landing on deserted islands. No Thanks, someone has spelled out with tree trunks on the beach where the plane has crashed. No Really… I’m Fine is spelled out below an island with all the implements for survival spread around a woman relaxing on a tree stump. Seen retrospectively in the book, the symbols and icons of Fosberg’s past ten years of art-making follow this consistent and contained narrative of self-sufficiency, its failures and successes.
The call of the wild, as it were, beckoned Fosberg to the forests of Michigan where she bought a summer cottage several years ago. “I’m a nature buff,” says Fosberg. Leaving Chicago on the weekends provided respite and inspiration for her drawings, most of which were created in her 3,500 square-foot, light-filled Bucktown studio. The story of Man versus Man, or Artist versus Gentrification, came to a climax one year ago when the landlord of the building on Damen Avenue, who for many years made it affordable for artists to live and work in such a glorious location, sold the space to commercial developers. Now, Fosberg’s former studio, which can be seen in several black-and-white photographs in the book, has been replaced by the Marc Jacobs store. Fosberg has since taken up residence in her Michigan forest cottage, where the idea of creating a book came into play. Since so much of the work is based on her personal experiences dividing time between city and forest, the interruption provided a moment to reflect on a ten-year body of work. The book is aptly titled “The End of the Beginning.”
“I always knew I wanted to be an artist,” says Fosberg, whose mother owned a print shop, so a supply of paper was always readily available and appealing for a kid “who grew up with a pen in the hand.” Fosberg is the type of person who will pick up any scrap of paper with writing on it found in the street or sidewalk, a dried leaf plucked by the wind off the tree of someone’s life. Peering into a small section of a life, and dreaming up banalities and desires, is an evocative practice living in a city of strangers—perhaps all we need is the confirmation that others are prone to self-doubt, boredom, heartbreak and resiliency.
The End of the Beginning is printed in an edition of 1,000 and available at Quimby’s, Linda Warren Gallery, the Museum of Contemporary Art and lorafosberg.com, $40.