Portland Timbers’ George Fochive connects with himself, his culture through upcoming art gallery

Portland Timbers midfielder George Fochiv is holding an art gala showcasing his work in Portland on Oct. 6, the culmination of a lifetime of experiences and a new commitment to a longtime passion.

It’s a significant departure from professional football, but a welcome one. Fochive’s creativity was evident from a young age. The first toy he asked his mom for was LEGOs — not to play with, he said, but to build something he could use. Mom was impressed by her son’s ingenuity.

Years passed and Fochive – born in Washington DC and raised around the world – found himself narrowly focused on what could land him a college scholarship and a chance to further his education. Football was the easy answer, and Fochive excelled, eventually playing at Hawaii Pacific University and, later, the University of Connecticut.

Through every economics class, soccer practice, family move to a new country, and life-changing experience, one thing remained constant in Fochive’s mind: art. Creative expression, it turns out, was his secret passion.

“Whatever I was studying, I would always take a class or two — and no one would know — I would just sign up and take an extra class in art, art history or film,” Fochive said. “Anything to do with art to learn some things. I was just interested.”

Fochive’s childhood and professional soccer career have taken him all over the world, including his family’s origins in Cameroon and throughout the United States. He spent almost a decade of his youth in France and also lived in Denmark, Israel and elsewhere. Along the way, Fochive’s travels not only influenced his art, but also his understanding of the value of creativity and how deeply woven art is into his cultural background.

Fochive, 30, works primarily in acrylic on canvas. When he was younger, he said, he did a lot of oil painting, especially when he lived in France. As one does, according to the classicism that defines the French artistic soul.

“I think I lived on four continents before I was 15 and knew four languages,” Fochive said. “Well, along with that, other cultures and other forms of art and history and thought and psychology and literature — these are all things that are in my memory bank. I just need to connect them sometimes. The best way to do this is through painting.”

Regardless of where he lived, Fochive has connected with – and been influenced by – his fellow West Africans. Some of them have been teammates with the Timbers, including Nigeria’s Fanendo Adi and France’s Larrys Mabiala through the Democratic Republic of Congo. Adi even plans to somehow sponsor the art gala, while Mabiala will buy a painting “if I can afford it.”

Many of the faces that Fochive colors are dark with strong features, often surrounded by color. When she needed a space to host the art show, the first person who stepped up was Fatou Ouattara and her team at Akadi, a West African restaurant in Portland.

“This is West African culture,” Fochive said. “We’re very connected through the arts, through music, through laughter, through cultural things. It means a lot to us, because that’s who we are. Music, art, food. In West Africa, resources are not scarce, but they are stolen and exploited by the West. So people tend to develop this mindset not because they are naive, but because they want to be happy.”

Mabiala joked during Fochive’s interview with The Oregonian/OregonLive that the Cameroonians are “like little brothers” to the Congolese.

“We need security people, we are calling the Cameroonian guys,” Mabiala said with a laugh. “They are strong but not very smart.”

In fact, Mabiala is in awe of Fochive’s creative ability. And he connects on a deep level with his teammate and friend culturally.

“We come from roughly the same culture,” Mabiala said. “He’s from Cameroon, I’m from Congo. We eat the same food, listen to the same music. We are the same type of people, strong and all. Being able to travel so much helped open his mind and see different things and different art. I’ve traveled as much as he has, but I just don’t have the same skills.

“He really discovered he could do something outside of football. It was very helpful for him, and I was there from the beginning. The achievement of putting together this artistic performance is something amazing.”

Under the pseudonym Ivan Yaffe (Fochive’s middle name followed by the Hebrew word for beautiful), Fochive will unveil and showcase his collection of works entitled ‘Call Me Bantu’. The Bantu are an indigenous group originating from West and Central African nations.

“It comes out in the form of colors,” Fochive said. “It’s not that I have an intention when I paint. It’s just an atmosphere. When I’m done, I watch it as a viewer. If you have intention, you will stop. You can’t handle art. Art manipulates you. You respond to colors, to an atmosphere. And he will tell you what is needed.”

Fochive’s art exhibit is scheduled for 6:30-9:30pm at Akadi (1001 SE Division Street). A link to purchase tickets for the 21 and over event can be found at ivanyaffe.com and admission is $100 per person, which includes complimentary wine and small hors d’oeuvres. A portion of the proceeds will support youth soccer in Portland through the Zokaei Family Foundation.

“People told me what I was doing was really cool and said people would be interested to see what I could do with it,” Fochive said with a smile. “I was like, ‘Yeah, the community only cares about football.’ But I realized that it can’t be true, because I don’t just care about football and that’s my job. So I thought I should show it to the world. I hope it will be well attended and that people will open their minds to what I have to offer.”

— Ryan Clarke, [email protected], Twitter: @RyanTClarke

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