from then to now
F!NK + Co. was established by Robert Foster in 1993 in Queanbeyan, NSW, Australia, with the aim of creating a design and manufacturing business that would support and generate opportunities for Australian designer-makers. Joined by Gretel Harrison in 1995, together they built F!NK + Co. into the business it is today – a much loved and respected Australian design company with an international reputation for producing world-class tableware, hollowware, jewellery and lighting.
Be it the iconic F!NK Water Jug, the squashed Storage Vessels, the graceful Coolamon Platters, the Ned Kelly-esque Wine Chiller or the subtle curves of the Beaker, every F!NK product melds refined craftsmanship with shapes and colours largely inspired by the Australian landscape – tropical corals, fish and anemones, endless blue skies and vast ancient deserts.
F!NK is the promise of modern design excellence, uniting the utmost respect for the design ethic with that refined craftsmanship. This craftsmanship combines traditional artisanal practices alongside innovative contemporary manufacturing techniques joined with the wit and rigour of designer-founder Foster.
Tragically, Foster was killed in a car accident in July 2016. Today, F!NK + Co. is spearheaded by Gretel Harrison, who is not only the face of the company but who also leads a dynamic team of practitioners. The company has continued to go from strength to strength as Gretel and the F!NK staff builds on the legacy of Robert Foster.
Supremely functional but never mundane, no two F!NK pieces are exactly the same; every design is a work of art and none is mass-produced. Each article is created in relatively small batches of 20 to 100 units at a time and each is individually hand-finished in the Queanbeyan studio/workshop.
F!NK fundamentally challenges the notions that functional is necessarily boring, and that useful and visually exciting are mutually exclusive. While embracing and reinventing both the urbane and the utilitarian, F!NK is shamelessly unafraid of running with a quirkiness and frivolity that captures both the heart and the imagination.
Back in 1993 it was Robert’s intention that F!NK + Co would operate as a collective. The “+ Co” was important to him. Many of the much loved F!NK products created during his life were collaborations with other designers and artists.
Whilst Robert and his influence is irreplaceable, it is Gretel’s intention that F!NK & Co will continue that collaborative tradition, and in conjunction with other designers and artists will continue to produce innovative products that challenge, delight and amuse.
Since 2016 the staff and friends of F!NK + Co have gone above and beyond to fill the void left by Robert’s passing. Workshop Manager Bengt Cannon and the team’s commitment to the survival and future success of the company has been exceptional. The company has also made a significant financial investment in the workshop including upgraded equipment, new tooling and facilities.
It is intended that these improvements, along with the desire to continue Robert Foster’s wish to create a truly Australian design company manufacturing Australian made objects, will see F!NK + Co products adorn the homes and bodies of this nation and its people for many years to come.
“There are rare moments in the design continuum when the inspiration of a single artisan transcends that of their contemporaries and translates into a legacy destined to extend beyond the here and now. Such was the work of Robert Foster and his studio/workshop, F!NK + Co.”
Lauded as works of exemplary contemporary design in the world’s major arts institutions, Robert Foster's work offers more than just striking visual appeal and design innovation – the functional performance and quality of production and finishing are also palpably important. It comes as no surprise that Foster originally trained more than two decades ago as a metalsmith and worked overseas with some of the world’s leading design houses including Alessi and Ingo Maurer.
Born in 1962 in Kyneton in Victoria, Australia, Foster studied and trained at the Australian National University School of Art in 1981, working under Norwegian silversmith Ragnar Hansen.
Foster established F!NK + Co. in 1993 after the success of his iconic F!NK Water Jug, which started life as a small commission for a Canberra restaurant in 1991. Foster also worked in sculptural lighting, furniture and commissions, and brought to his work the combination of the natural inquisition of an engineer with the creativity of an artist. Primarily working with aluminium, titanium and stainless steel, he combined such untraditional alloys with other materials as diverse as plastics, stone, ceramics and glass.
Foster regularly exhibited his one-off work both in Australia and abroad and his works and those of F!NK + Co., are held in major public collections including the National Gallery of Australia, the National Gallery of Victoria, the Powerhouse Museum; the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Museum of Modern Art in New York and Museum Fur Kunst und Gewerbe in Hamburg.
In a career spanning 29 years, Foster was regularly commissioned to design sculptural installations, corporate gifts and exclusive products. His lighting installation ‘The Journey’ (2010) received the 2011 ACT Architecture Award for Lighting and the Australian New Zealand Lighting Design IES Award of Excellence.
He was an Australian National University Alumnus of the year for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, 2015, and more recently, was posthumously awarded the Australian Institute of Architects (ACT) award 'Art in Architecture: Lifetime Contribution Award’ in June, 2018.
Foster regularly collaborated with other artists and designers. One of these engagements was to work with artist Marie Hagerty on a series of sculptural objects that drew their inspiration from Marie’s acclaimed paintings, whilst another produced works based on cell culturing with Oron Catts of Symbiotica (UniWA).
There are many, many more and this shouldn’t surprise; whilst Robert was both talented and prolific he was also a gregarious man who loved both to teach and learn from those around him, and was always looking for ways to increase the profile and acceptance of design in Australia.
He is greatly missed.
“It is crucial to educate the Australian and international public about the value of outstanding design and high quality products.”