John Fou: I Am Your Man or St.George & Call me, Anytime

John Fou

Artworks’ Titles: I Am Your Man or St.George & Call me, anytime
Material Used: Acrylic and colored pencil
Studio Based: Paris

Can you tell us about the process of making your work?

Paint is my second life, initially I used to be a circus artist (juggler), and then a dancer and performer for 15 years. Finally, all my life was about bodies; mine first and then inside the drawing and the painting. I have always been interested in the anatomy, human and non human. There is something very theatrical in a way. I like to think a theater scene when I create a composition.

I work by series. This means that one work bring me to another one. Every time I discover a detail that is interesting, I use it for the next piece. I use figures that I repeat until I exploit all the energy of it.

I mostly work instinctively. In general, I don’t know why I am doing this or that. I heard from a professor at Les beaux arts de Paris that “you can do whatever you want but at one point you have to question it”. So for me the questions start to appear at the end of the process.

Another thing that is very important for me is constraint. The way I use colored pencil. I fill my work by a system of repeated lines. By keeping this technique it gives me a frame and then I start searching the freedom inside, a structure to go further.

How would you define your work in a few words (ideally in 3 words)?

Playful, colorful, fanciful.

Could you share with us some insights on your «I am your man or St George» and “Call me (anytime)”, (2022) paintings? Is there any particular story behind these two new works?

Humor is the principal idea and the principal motor in my work. As a dancer and more generally performer, on stage, I always liked to make people laugh. I practice the art of clown for many years.

I can feel that humor, in general, can be related to superficiality. I will say that I am assuming it, and even more by saying “I am superficial by depth of mind”.

There are those 3 soldiers having fun together, dancing or flirting. They are all the same characters coming from other drawing that I did. This legendary Christian figure who came to save the princess from the Dragon: Saint George. It was not the Christian propaganda that interested me but the figure of a strong man. A powerful soldier (the cliché of what a man should be I guess). I wanted to play with the “feminine spirit“ of those men by making them dancing and flirting together. It’s a contradiction, you never saw image of soldier from the 4th century in this posture 😊.

John Fou, “I am your man or St George”, 180 x 130 cm, acrylic and colored pencil 2022, Photo ©Hugard & Vanoverschelde

Call me, anytime” speaks also about sexuality, is that a phone or a dick? Anyway there is something phallic and at this moment it was funny for me to play with this idea of erectility.

I like to think about sexuality with joy and happiness. In my drawing I want to celebrate that. While practicing tantrism for a while, I observed that sexuality is connected with all what we are and we can heal ourselves.

Call me, anytime” is also a tribute to Lee Lozano who used planes on her works. Inside this drawing they are flying around without logic. This work could be a representation of a giant body and we need a plane to be able to see all of it.

John Fou, “Call me, anytime”, 169 x 129 cm, colored pencil, acrylic on paper, 2022, Stems Gallery at NADA 2022, Photo ©

Vivid purple, red, green and blue hues seem to be a distinctive common place regarding the depiction of the characters on your canvases; do you feel aesthetically engaged with this particular four-colour palette at all? Is it meaningful at your artistry?

Colors always put me in a special mood. Very different each time. I have a perception of what I want when I start working. As I said, I like to stay instinctive when I work. One layer after another, the color start to appear. In every drawing there are at least 5 layers of colors. It gets gradually created.

The use of colors gives a feeling of freshness, a little seduction and I believe colour will perk people up a little, color can give them a little bit of enthusiasm, color will inspire them.

Visually, there is a strong repetition of horses on your canvases; where does this fascination with this animal or broadly other animals come from?

I like to work by repetition until the subject is totally used for me. Every figure that I use come from a special event in my life.

Tiger came from my past life as a circus artist, I started painting this animal that gets revenge from its owner. At those times, there was a big scandal about how people were treating animals in circus. Even if I was a contemporary circus artist and I never worked with animals, I guess I felt involved.

Horses appear in a very emotionally strong moment of my life. I was lost and the figure of two people inside of a horse appear. It was like a talisman, this animal became a balm.

First I didn’t knew why I was drawing it but then after reading stories, myth or legend about horses it appeared that this animal had many meanings. Horse is capable to cross the two worlds (the one from darkness, down, and the one from the light, up). He is also carrying the soul of dead people in the world of dead. This animal was full of wisdom and hope. Something very reassuring.

Very recent paintings such as “Landscape”, “V”, “Aquarium” present a completely different visual approach in your body of work. They look like a close up cropped from a bigger image that we cannot see. Is this your current creative technique or style or would it be something more significant and meaningful that you wish to further excel in the future?

One day I took a picture of a detail of a work which was more figurative. I liked the picture and I directly saw a beautiful composition, much more abstract. I am very connected to this new style, there is something very energetic in those forms. I can project myself inside big landscapes, like a field of colour.. It’s like coming very close to a body and feeling intimacy in total.

I also was very influenced by the amazing work of the Lebanese artist Huguette Caland and the movement of the Chicago imagist (Peter Saul, Karl Wirsum). The imagist got something very surrealistic and colorful. That was very inspiring.

Do specific artworks have been created by random experiments in your studio or do you usually come up with a particular concept or narrative in the very beginning of your artistic process?

Every work lead me to another one. For example, the engraving that I do in my paper appear by surprise. I drew a composition with a very sharp pencil and I was not happy so I erase it. When I start filled my new composition the older drawing appear. I decided to keep this system and now it’s appearing in all my works. It’s like having a story inside another one.

What would be the best way to exhibit your work?

My compositions are like a theater scene, a moment.

In 2021, I created a carousel at Le chateau du Marais and I have to say that it was one of my favorite work. It was not only a theater scene but more like a theater piece!; people were able to get inside and be surrounded by the drawing. The public had to do an effort for seeing the work. Being in the middle of the carousel was like being on the stage.

Can you mention any artists you, lately or generally, take inspiration from?

I have been inspired by many artists. First of all was the French painter Robert Combas, from the French movement “Figuration Libre” in the 80’s. What firstly inspired me was the playfulness and the naive way of drawing and use of colors, that was very personal. It gave me the strength to think that I was able to go on my own direction and to not be smashed by all the history of painters.

The subtleties of Pierre Klossowsky, the brother of Balthus ..they’re very powerful.

I can say that some lives of artists were also very inspiring. For example, Joan Brown, an American painter, started painting and at one point, depicting the fact that she started making money and be famous, decided to change her style because she was not happy anymore with her work and she took 2 years to practice and go somewhere else.. Amazing! And what a painter!!

I could also speak about Miriam Cahn, Huma Bhabha, Malcom Morley, Baselitz, all the neo primitivist (Chagall, Larionov, Gontcharova) and many more.

My both travels in India and Mexico were very inspiring too, all the colorful temple, the religious drawings and statues. There is something playful in those cultures.

I love poetry too: the sufist Rumi or Rimbaud, Emily Dickinson..

What about the place where you work? What’s your studio space look like?

Light! Give me light. I am working in front of two big windows in a studio close to Paris called “Poush Manifesto”. It’s beautiful with vey high ceiling. It’s a big place full of artists (250), I have a lot of friends there, its vey rich artistically.

Which are your plans for the near future?

Cool collaborations are on tracks:

I open a show at Roman Road, London the 19th January 2023.

Another group show at Galerie Dumonteil in Paris in February.

A project will probably start with Thom Oosterhof in Amsterdam in May as well.

Let’s keep in touch ! 😉

Additional Images

John Fou at POUSH – Portes Ouvertes, photo ©Romain Darnaud
John Fou, “Homme crocodile” 146,5 x 113 cm, acrylic, colored pencil, 2021, photo ©Nicolas Brasseur
John Fou, “What are you hiding inside” 188 x 132 cm, acrylic, colored pencil 2022, photo ©Nicolas Brasseur
John Fou,”Mon métier”, Le chateau du Marais, 2021, photo ©Gregory Copitet
John Fou, “Catching a Bird”, 2022, acrylic, colored pencil on paper 173 x 131 cm, photo ©Hugard & Vanoverschelde


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