Obituary: Robert Foster 1962-2016

Written by Associate Professor Denise Ferris, Head of ANU School of Art.


Robbie Foster was a friend to many and a strong presence at the ANU School of Art who connected with so many staff and students across a range of disciplines.

His breakthrough moment came with the invention of the iconic F!NK Water Jug, loved around the nation and the world.

He designed the jug on his first commission, for a Canberra restaurant in 1993.

With its unique sloping spout, the jug is recognised internationally as an outstanding example of contemporary Australian design.

Foster epitomises a generation of Australian makers who generated work for a global audience.

He graduated from ANU with a Bachelor of Arts (Visual) in 1985 and completed a Graduate Diploma in Art (Visual) in 1986.

Building on his training in traditional silversmithing, he used hand-raising techniques, explosive forming technologies, bush mechanic ways and anything he thought would work.

Last year the ANU School of Art nominated Foster for an ANU Alumni Award, the inaugural Award for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

In a case drafted by his friends and colleagues Barb McConchie and Rohan Nicol, the nomination responded to diverse categories that effortlessly showcased Foster’s gifts, initiatives and achievements. The case was straightforward to write and referred to his genius with materials and constant flow of ideas.

It named the Victorian Albert Museum in London, the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe in Hamburg as destinations for his original thinking and creative inventions.

Developing his talents, Foster became a sophisticated designer. His methods were deeply rooted in craft traditions and provide a valuable model for future generations.

Those designer-makers will reap the benefit of a highly developed sense of aesthetics and technical proficiency.

Foster guest lectured at the ANU School of Art, worked as a technician and generously contributed to teaching within the gold and silversmithing department, naturally making his impact on multiple areas of the school. An administrator mentioned to me recently that she remembered Rob, and added, “and when he had hair!”
Foster has employed and provided internships, mentoring and work experience to more than 25 ANU students and six University graduates have designed products for the F!NK range.

His ability to commercialise design solutions marked him as a unique innovator and serves as a shining exemplar of how those trained in the humanities, arts and social sciences have gone on to make important contributions to Australia’s culture of innovation.

ANU and the School of Art community mourn his loss.

In time we will find ways to ensure his singular contribution continues to be publicly acknowledged.

Meanwhile, as friends, colleagues and simply human beings in any community, what can we take from this sadness?

Perhaps this: to value that community – our community – and that as human beings, makers, artists and designers, we must honour one another, and recognise each other’s struggles as well as acknowledge and value our successes.
Rob would want that.