In collaboration with art critic Rob Perrée, Readytex Art Gallery has developed an informative initiative: An Eye for Art. Once every two weeks Rob Perrée discusses a work of art from the collection of Readytex Art Gallery. This week he talks about ‘Le Serpent Bleu’, screenprint (6/60), 70 cm wide x 49 cm high, 1990, from John Lie A Fo.
How much anger can you put into a relatively small screen print? John Lie A Fo (Paramaribo, 1945) has done a pretty good job of it. If looks could kill … If body language could swear … The work resembles a variation on the Adam-and-Eve story. Yet here the serpent has already put his diabolical seduction skills into practice. The woman confronts the man with this. A painful moment. Of course the story is more universal, and it is probably about the relationship between people in general, about what people do to each other.
The work of John Lie A Fo is basically figurative, but he distorts the reality with elemental, quasi-primitive forms. Those forms are often a visualization of feelings: the rounded body of the woman releases the anger, the angular man clenches his teeth and restrains himself. The colors are usually also elementary. Red, blue, black and light yellow. The bright colors enhance the contrasts and set the scene for the story. Moreover, anger knows no nuance, not even in color.
This work reminds me of paintings and drawings from Jean-Michel Basquiat. The angular male figure especially, could have walked straight out of one of his works. Basquiat also reduced his figures to more simple shapes. He used a similar flat manner to put them in the space, or rather onto the space, as though he didn’t know what perspective or depth are. Artists from the COBRA-movement are another source of inspiration for Lie A Fo: the colors, the motile, expressionistic shapes and the (supposedly) naive style.
John Lie A Fo was born in Suriname. He left the country after the December murders. He moved to French Guyana, but spends a lot of time in Europe.
His work is often engaged. Violence, and particularly violence directed towards a people, can evoke his anger. He calls his painting ‘Cri du Maroni’ his personal ‘Guernica’ (after Picasso’s political masterpiece).
The culture of the interior of ‘the Guyanas’ and the Caribbean culture in general, encourage him to make reference to it in his work. Within that larger context, this ‘serpent’ is reasonably restrained.
TEXT Rob Perrée, Paris, August 2014
TRANSLATION Cassandra Gummels-Relyveld, 2014
Want to see this and other work of John Lie A Fo ‘up close and personal’? That’s possible at Readytex Art Gallery, Maagdenstraat 44-upstairs, Paramaribo. www.readytexartgallery.com. For more information about John Lie A Fo please visit the website http://readytexartgallery.com/johnlieafo.
A book about John Lie A Fo is available at Readytex Art Gallery for EURO 45. John Lie A Fo; Retrospective 1982 > 2012, Anne-Marie Pichart-Libert & David Redon (red.), Galerie L’Encadrier, 2012. ISBN 978-2-9543281
The 18th edition of An Eye for Art has been sent as a RAG-mailing on August 27, 2014 and was published in Kunst en Cultuur in de Ware Tijd on August 27, 2014.
Because really looking at art and understanding art are not always obvious and easy to do, we hope that these regular reviews will at least offer you some insight into the process. You will get to see how a connoisseur looks at art, discusses it, and then links the work to others within the international art world.
Of course you can only truly judge a work of art when you are actually standing in front of it yourself. We therefore hope to see you soon in Readytex Art Gallery and are eager to hear what you think of this artwork, and which other works of art you find yourself drawn to. Please note that the artworks discussed are still available for purchase at the time that the review is published.
Rob Perrée is art historian and works as freelance writer, art critic and curator, specialized in contemporary (Afro-) American art, African art, Surinamese art and art using new media. His work has appeared in countless catalogues, books, magazines and newspapers. He is editor of Sranan Art Xposed, editor in chief of Africanah.org and a member of the editing team of Pf Photo Magazine. His website: http://robperree.com.