Ken Foster (2016)

According to CBC, “In some circles, Ken Foster is a well-respected artist with a unique style and an international following. To others, he is known as the guy living in alleys who has been hawking his work on city’s streets for more than 20 years.”

For over eighteen months, documentary filmmaker Josh Laner followed Foster, known to locals as Vancouver’s Vincent Van Gogh, through the streets of the city’s rough and tumble Gastown.

Foster is incredibly prolific and while he has said he won’t sell a painting for other twenty dollars, in the same breath he says that he’s sold one for $2 to buy a Slurpee. That said, he’s also painting to support a crack habit that he feels keeps his schizophrenia under control.

The film starts moments before Ken enters Vancouver’s Art Battle competition, which is all about live competitive painting. It seems like everyone there is abuzz about Ken’s appearance, but they all seem to be more excited than he is to be there.

This film raises plenty of points — are the people buying Ken’s work supporters of art who supporters of his drug habit? Is the madness that Ken endures why he’s such an amazing artist? And can he move into becoming a legit fine artist and leave the street and the people of it behind? In fact, when asked, what would you give up, smoking crack or art, Foster is unable to decide until figuring that art is what he loves, but that question is inherently silly to him because crack is such a fundamental part of his life.

Foster doesn’t have a relationship in his life that doesn’t seem painful, from how he feels about his mother to how his girlfriend randomly disappears, only to come back and battle with him. Only art feels like a constant in his life, but he only feels like he has reached one percent of what he could have been. And he feels like he is nothing to his daughter, which kills him as he doesn’t even know if he wants to be alive. Trust me — this is a rough watch.

The hardest part of this movie to watch was Ken leaving one of the Art Battles, even as a viewer is telling him that he is a true artist, because he needs crack to set his mind right. Crack no longer makes him high, each toke only sets his brain as straight as it can be so he is no longer in a heightened state of anxiety. He hates what he has painted and it begins to send him into a downward spiral. This scene is animated instead of shown, so everything becomes heightened and more frightening as real life gives way to darkness and terror.

Going into the finals, Ken can’t even find his brushes and is losing control, even as he’s the crowd favorite. You can’t invent drama like this. I don’t want to spoil the rest of the film at this point, so you should really watch it for yourself. I wanted Ken to emerge from this saved, but I don’t truly know if that’s possible, so I realize that’s a spoiler, but it helps going into this movie knowing how harrowing it is. People genuinely love him and tell him but none of it ever gets through or fixes anything.

Want to still watch it? You should. Ken Foster is now available on Cable VOD and Digital HD, including iTunes, Google Play, Comcast, Cox, Verizon Fios, Dish Network and more.

Disclaimer: I was sent this film by its PR team and in no way did that impact my review.

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