Chris Foley has traveled the world — from Labrador to Belize to Patagonia — capturing the dynamic energy of rivers and creeks, images that form the basis of his artistic photographs. But in 2004, when he moved to Western North Carolina to be closer to his daughter, he discovered that our area, with its ancient mountains, contained the same power and majesty of water that he’d sought in his journeys around the globe.
As a Studio Art major at Georgetown University, “the idea was to familiarize us with all recognized mediums,” remembers Foley. “We did all forms of painting, etching, woodblock printing, as well as sculpting in wood and marble.” He was most attracted to painting, but admits he wasn’t very good at it. “But it did give me a strong appreciation for really good painting.”
Foley dropped out of college his senior year when he needed to start earning a living to support his family. When he contacted the dean 20 years later, however, he learned he’d already completed the main Bachelor of Fine Arts requirements and lacked only a few electives to graduate. “I went back and got the degree. It was a really rewarding experience.”
For many years, he focused on doing graphics and print production. “When the digital age arrived, I became fascinated by the potential to make art using programs like Photoshop.” In 1997, he teamed up with a photographic scientist from the Smithsonian and formed Old Town Editions, a company that used high-end proofing devices to make limited-edition art prints. Eventually, the ever-evolving technology made it cheaper to make prints, but the quality often suffered, and so he left the firm. “I felt like I was in a race to the bottom,” says Foley.
He says he’s always considered himself a full-time artist. “I was either always doing it or thinking about it. But it’s never been the only thing I’ve done to make a living — which is great, because [that] allowed me time to figure things out and make art that pleased my own tastes.” It also afforded him the chance to fail occasionally — an invaluable lesson. “I’m constantly trying to refine the presentation of my art, which had begun years ago, with my obsessive photographing of moving water.”
His works are often mistaken for paintings, and “I’m glad they have [that] aura,” says Foley. The photos, he explains, “are combined and layered many times … I then print them and mount them on panels and coat them with resin or wax.”
In 2006, Foley established The Haen Gallery — honoring his mother by using her maiden name — in Asheville after being inspired by the textured oil paintings of West Virginia painter Lynn Boggess: “From the first moment I saw his work, I wanted to be part of what he was doing. We opened the gallery with a show for him.” In 2013, Foley established The Haen Gallery Brevard, which leans toward large-scale sculpture, though Foley’s work is displayed at both venues.
Despite the demands of running the businesses, he continues to create. It’s not so hard when the best water is in your backyard: “The pristine streams, creeks, and rivers in the Appalachian terrain are unsurpassed to make the photos I use for my artwork.”
Chris Foley, Brevard. The Haen Gallery is located at 52 Biltmore Ave. in Asheville and at 210 South Broad St. in Brevard. In May, the gallery in Brevard will host a large showing of Foley’s works. For more information, see thehaengallery.com/artists/chris-foley/ and on Instagram: @cfoley639