Photography by John Fei, on display at the FCC Phnom Penh through September 30, 2006.
The FCC Permanent Collection, six decades of Cambodian history in photographs.
Like the enigmatic faces of the Bayon prevalent in his work, John Fei's art insinuates that some greater, more complex beauty lies within, and challenges us to find it.
At the FCC Phnom Penh through September 30, Fei's untitled exhibit comprises mostly photographs of the Bayon, murals from the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh and bas-reliefs from Angkor Wat. While certainly noteworthy on their own, it is Fei's artwork, what he calls "photosculpture," that makes his collection of work remarkable.
In a piece titled "Recreation" (above), Fei combines images taken from the Royal Palace, embellishing many with original framing. Despite the heavy reliance on original Khmer artistry, the new storyline Fei creates remains distinctive with the flourishes and inflections of Fei's own artistic voice.
In "Flying" (left), Fei fills a skewed wooden frame with blocks of what looks like prints from a psychedelic microscope. Hanging against a brick wall, three orange butterflies linger about, providing a subtle touch of color. The whole looks like something from Jim Henson's Labyrinth, a surreal, looking-glass time warp that might suck you into another dimension.
Fei did not take up art or photography until 2003, he says, which only adds to the impressiveness of his work. A 58-year-old Chinese-American, he sometimes collaborates with other artists, namely sculptress Lily Han, who does most of his metal work. He has no formal education in art. His exhibit at the FCC Angkor three months ago was his first.
Yet for someone who lacks any formal training, Fei shows an uncanny understanding of fundamental art theory. A cursory glance at "Flying" reveals complex textures, deft use of line to create rhythm and a nimble understanding of light, color, balance and proportion.
Perhaps symbolic of it all, the standout of Fei's collection is one enigmatic photograph of candy-colored pumps on a Chinese newspaper. For it Fei offers no account, except to state a philosophy of similar paradox.
"Beauty is just there," he says.