"Don't get the idea Foo Fat's works are simply well-crafted blow-ups of pretty pictures. Neither are they the product of a naturalist painter. Her sensibilities tend to the intuitive, sometimes verging on the mystical."
- Christopher Hume, art critic
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- Does this look like a photograph or a painting?
- Is this a setting for a special occasion?
- Find the visual clues that make you think that this is a Chinese dinner.
- What do you see reflected in the mirror?
My influences range from the depiction of the nature in early Renaissance painting and the interiors of Vermeer to the colour field abstractions of Jackson Pollock. I would like to create an art that occupies a territory between Abstract Expressionism and Photorealism. My ambition is, in the manner of a craftsperson, to add a few works of beauty to the world.
Each painting begins with a carefully composed 3 ½″ x 5″ color snapshot. Using a grid-transfer system, Foo Fat marks the photograph and canvas with identical 10″ x 10″ grids to create 100 corresponding squares. More complicated areas of the painting are further divided and can result in 10,000 squares per painting. It takes her about six to eight hours to complete one square so she can only work on one square per day. Foo Fat often begins from the top left and works her way down so as to not smudge the paint surface, or she will work from the middle of the canvas and work to the bottom. Often she will turn the painting upside down or sideways to get a fresh perspective. The process is slow and painstaking and one painting can take up to four months to complete.
- Although Foo Fat paints in a photo-realist style, there is an element of interpretation and abstraction in all of her works. Her unhurried process treats every square as though it were an individual painting. Up close, the highly detailed forms reveal tiny brushstrokes, patterns and colours. Unlike other photo-realist painters who present neutral images where all traces of the artists have been removed, Foo Fat reveals every mark and stroke in her laborious process, insisting on a more personal approach to image-making so that there is a “feeling for the way the paint goes on.” The image is never completely accurate. When working from a postcard size photograph, capturing minute details is a matter of invention and interpretation.
- According to Foo Fat, one of the functions of art is “to make people look anew at some situation in reality presented in a vital way which, perhaps, increases their awareness.” This painting of a dinner table seems like an ordinary domestic scene, but if we explore the details we find how very unordinary this image is. While the title suggests a setting for a Chinese dinner, the image reveals a setting for a more complex family unit than described.
- Foo Fat has said that she is “fascinated with busy, complex, organic imagery.” Here the busyness and complexity is both in the visual elements of the setting but also in the family structure it reflects. Foo Fat married into a Chinese family from Mauritius, an island off the coast of Africa. Her husband has 11 siblings, most of whom are married to Caucasians. This Chinese dinner setting reveals Chinese traditions that have been affected by Western influences, such as the use of cutlery and plates. Foo Fat explains that “[i]f their manners had not already been modified by living in a French colony, the cutlery might have been a concession to the non-Asian visitors. I would suggest that this family is an example of integration over the generations.”
- The tight and off-centre composition contributes to a feeling that this is a candid intimate moment, frozen in time. Action feels imminent. The blurred foliage around the top of the frame reinforces this private setting. We can imagine that soon Foo Fat’s large extended family will occupy the frame and our voyeurism will have to end.
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Foo Fat depicted a celebration from her family's life. What family celebration would you depict in a painting?
Find out more about the artist.
Dulcie Foo Fat was born Dulcie Dixon in London, England, in 1946 and emigrated to Canada in 1971. She currently lives and works in Calgary.
Foo Fat earned a Bachelor of Arts in painting from Reading University in 1969 and a Masters of Fine Arts from the University of Calgary in 1974.
About her Career
Over the past 30 years Foo Fat has exhibited nationally and internationally. Her work is included in many private and public collections in Canada and abroad. Foo Fat's practice includes still lifes, interiors and figurative groupings related to her extended Chinese family, and close-up views of grass, leaves and lichen-covered rocks, known as "groundscapes".
Dulcie Foo Fat
Chinese Dinner, 1983
oil on canvas
96.8 x 142.2 cm
Collection of Glenbow Museum; Gift of Norcen Energy Resources Ltd., 1984