John Lie A Fo
Worldly artist, with his heart in Suriname, and a culturally loaded message.
From June 25th until the 14th of July The Readytex Art Gallery will be dedicating special attention to an artist who is already quite popular in many parts of the world, but regretfully is not yet very well known in Suriname, his own birth country.
With this mini feature on the artist John Lie A Fo, the Readytex Art Gallery wants to give the Surinamese public the opportunity to familiarize itself with this great artist.
Who is John Lie A Fo?
John Lie A Fo was born on June 15th 1945 in Suriname from Surinamese parents of Chinese/ Javanese descent. At the age of 15 he left Suriname for Holland where he spent the first few years working in several, for him quite unsatisfactory, office jobs. As a young man of 18 he started a period in his life where for four years long he earned a living as a musician traveling through Europe. It is during this time that John first came into contact with the art world through the constructivist artist Richard Mortensen.
In 1966 he meets ballerina Maria Tjaden and it is this meeting that makes him decide to move back to Holland. In Amsterdam John continues his life as a musician for a while, but in 1968 the now married couple moves to Belgium where they open a club named “Café Folk center”. In Belgium John enrolls at the Koninklijke Academie voor Schone Kunsten (Royal Academy for Fine Arts) for evening classes. Several years later however, he once again decides to return to Holland and there he continues his art studies at the Vrije Academie (Free Academy) in The Hague.
It is from this moment on that the art career of John Lie A Fo really takes off.
The art career of John Lie A Fo
The urge to return to the country of his tropical origin causes him to move back to the now independent Suriname in 1979. He finds himself an art studio and his wife Maria starts a ballet school. Other than focusing on his own art, in Suriname John also occupies himself with the country’s culture policy and actively applies himself to the cause of the betterment of the local artists.
The political unrest of the early eighties in Suriname however, made the situation unbearable for the artist and the family once again returns to Holland in 1983.
Here he comes into contact with colleagues in the Art Printing Workshop in The Hague and his interest in fine art printing techniques steadily grows from this moment on. Together the artists from this group perform several innovations in the art of screen printing and develop new techniques.
In Holland John experiences many successes but the longing for the tropics remains strong as ever. Ultimately, the family decides to settle as close to Suriname as possible and the neighboring country of French Guyana is their choice. John decides to keep the art studio in Holland because he knows that the best market for his art still lies in Europe. Twice every year he travels to Holland with a new collection of paintings and once there he spends his time creating new screen prints.
The popularity of John Lie A Fo as an artist steadily grows and his work is greatly appreciated during art fairs and art exhibitions in countries such as Switzerland, Canada, Belgium, Germany and the USA.
What makes art by John Lie A Fo so interesting?
Like so many artists John Lie A Fo is on a quest for his own identity, style and technique. He goes out on a search for information about his roots and is finally rewarded with a wealth of information on Surinamese culture at the Tropen museum (Museum of the Tropics) in Amsterdam. His heart has always belonged to the tropics but John now starts to focus intensively on the culture and spiritual world of the Indigenous peoples and the Maroon tribes who live in the jungles of Suriname. He becomes fascinated with the relationships between people and animals in nature and the importance of the spirit world within these communities.
This fascination is clearly evident in the passionate visual language in the artwork of John Lie A Fo. In the powerful, colorful compositions, which at first may seem somewhat childlike, the relationship between the natural and the spiritual worlds is artfully portrayed.
The role played by the Sjaman and the Obiaman (respectively the spiritual leaders of the Amer-Indians and the Maroons) as the intermediary between the natural and the spiritual world, the rituals and the traditional artifacts are familiar subjects in the artwork by John Lie A Fo. The Maroon winti culture, the Caribbean voodoo traditions, but also elements from his personal heritage such as the Indonesian Jaran Kepang and traditions from Chinese culture are often returning subjects.
John Lie A Fo is as he himself says, a child of the Tropics. His art is all about his culture and this is what he would like to teach the rest of the world something about. It is the wisdom and the strength behind the traditions and the religious convictions of these different cultures, which he tries to expose with his colorful, expressive screen prints and paintings. The powerful, animated compositions overflowing with symbolism radiate the passion and drive of a self confident artist who is completely comfortable in his own skin, and who knows what he stands for.
In the catalogue about John Lie A Fo which appeared in 1994, he is quite adequately named the “Messenger from the Jungle”.
Creating a new piece of art is described by him as a creative process which he experiences as “a spiritual voyage of discovery in a beautifully spiritual jungle of a culturally magical country”.
The result of this creative process is therefore truly art with a magical quality.
For those not yet familiar with work by John lie A Fo, and for those who remember him from Suriname so long ago, this special mini feature focusing on art by John Lie A Fo, is absolutely worth a visit.
It is high time that the public here in Suriname becomes familiar with this well known artist who has for so many years now represented our country and our culture in such a worthy fashion all over the world.
During this mini feature part of the Readytex Art Gallery will be completely dedicated to art by John Lie A Fo for a period of three weeks.
This special feature is open to the public during the normal opening hours of the gallery which are Monday thru Friday from 8:00 am until 16:30 pm and on Saturday’s from 8:30 am until 13:30 pm. The Readytex Art Gallery is located on the Maagden straat 44 upstairs, in the Readytex department store building.
Team Readytex Art Gallery