At a Glance
“People in the Neighbourhood,” 16 oil-on-wood paintings by Fox, at the FCC Phnom Penh Aug 1 – Sep 15, 2008. Opening night reception with the artist August 1, 6 – 8 p.m.
Inspired by the unordinary personalities of Phnom Penh’s urban landscape, the painter who signs his work “Fox” emerged from years of relative inactivity invigorated by the capital’s inscrutable weirdness.
The idea for a series of portraits had been swirling around in his head for years. There had been sketches and thumbnail paintings and hours of contemplation. But not until late 2007 did the idea begin to fully form.
“I’d be going on a moto and see a certain person doing something and the idea would just stick,” says the 37-year-old Christchurch native. “Maybe there were more strange people around late last year.”
Over the next 12 months Fox set to work on more than 30 portraits, curvaceous yet vaguely cubist-influenced monochrome portraits that defy easy description.
“Prostitutes, drunks and drug addicts,” Fox tries, although the painter’s motley gang stretches beyond faceless apparitions of the city’s marginalized. Underdressed backpackers and Phnom Penh yuppies also make the lineup.
Over time Fox pared the original 30 pieces down to about 20, and from those a final 16 were selected for an exhibition at the FCC Phnom Penh titled “People in the Neighbourhood,” on display through September 15.
The turquoise, oil-on-wood monochromes are at once minimalist and intricately detailed.
For each painting the plywood base has been whitewashed with several coats of paint, creating a single background color but one rich with layers of details and textures.
Against these painted backdrops Fox poses the people of his memories: an underdressed backpacker prowling the city’s wats; a glue-sniffer off his tree; a narcissist preening in a handheld mirror.
There are very few straight lines in the work, in some paintings none at all. The shadings are bold and tattoo-like and combine with thin, loopy lines and surreal proportions to give the paintings an unmistakable psychedelic energy.
The turquoise-greens seem to magnify the effect.
“I tried other colors, purple, blue, but they didn’t seem to work,” Fox says. “The green was always the strongest.”
Like the characters his portraits represents, and not unlike the country itself, Fox’s paintings manage to convey a sense optimism despite the often heavy subject matter.
It’s the kind of contradiction the painter revels in.
“If you want to show someone an image, give them a photograph,” Fox says. “If you want to make someone think, give them a painting.”