Actor, director, playwright, painter and author, Patrick Michael Foster is one of Barbados’ creative treasures and a man of hidden depths.
These days, he’s holed up in his studio. There’s a commissioned painting underway on the easel, brushes sticking out of jars and the aroma of turpentine wafting through an ample 19th century space dotted with memorabilia. A theatre photo shows Patrick as a beautiful young man. Propped up against the walls are some paintings he’s retained, where birds, panthers, Caribbean folktale creatures and snakes inhabit lush landscapes. You know something intense is going on, but what? “They express Caribbean identities and archetypes,” Patrick explains. “They appear in folklore, but I call them legends.”
His last leg of schooling uprooted him to England where he went on to train as an actor at East 15 Acting School. By the mid 70s he had worked on stage, found buyers for his visual artwork, and had a play he’d written performed on BBC-TV. Career options were promising, but he felt out of place. “The main thing I learned in England was that I wasn’t English. It’s my language, but not my culture. I’m Caribbean, and the legends called me to come home.”
He landed in Barbados totally without prospects. Only one of his four siblings was here— Simon, a well-known fashion designer. Doors started opening when Patrick met the celebrated British stage and screen designer Oliver Messel. Moving easily between glamour and grit, Messel introduced the young creative to both the star-studded west coast set and to the local theatrical community. It was among the latter that Patrick would flourish.
Meanwhile, Patrick’s cultured voice made him a natural for radio. He created a 3-hour talk and entertainment show on VOB called “Bim, Bam, Bim!” which won him Barbados’ top awards for best producer and best broadcaster.
His early years of return also included being creative director at an ad agency. It was lucrative but unfulfilling, so once again he leapt into the void that is so often the artist’s lot.
Luckily, the Green Room Players commissioned a play from him. Patrick had just met a kindred spirit, the legendary Barbadian author, poet, literary editor, stage performer and painter, Frank Collymore. Patrick’s Green Room play would celebrate his life and achievements. Over the next few decades, Patrick scripted six more plays and acted in and directed several more.
“I was part of the revolution of theatre here,” he said. But that’s another story.
As an actor, his most widely seen role may be his 2017 portrayal of Puck as an aging queen butler in writer-director Shakirah Bourne’s film “A Caribbean Dream”, which sublimely translated Midsummer Night’s madness into Crop Over confusion (acaribbeandreamfilm.com). You can also see him in Menelik Shabazz’s “Heat”, (YouTube link: youtube/9E12cLoc22I). Nobel laureate Derek Walcott so liked Patrick’s performance in his two-hander, Pantomime, that he wrote him a role as a priest in a subsequent version of Ti Jean and His Brothers. Sir Hillary Beckles, Vice Chancellor of UWI and chairman of the CARICOM Reparations Committee, also wrote Patrick into all of his plays concerning the linked legacies of slavery and colonialism. And then there’s the always lively Gap Theatre, for whom Patrick has written, directed and performed.
Creating characters is Patrick’s constant through-line, with each art form nourishing the others. He has nearly finished writing a sprawling novel (or two) featuring the same Caribbean legends that appear in so many of his paintings. The work appears to reveal their hidden lives, but at heart the writing is deeply personal. It’s about coming home, both to a place and to the self, just as their creator has done.
There is talk of a retrospective exhibition in the near future. Meanwhile, Patrick’s art work can be seen by appointment. Watch for the books, “Blood and Soul”, “The Blood of Words” and the as yet untitled third volume, which he threatens to call “Bloody Hell.”