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

Portland Timbers midfielder George Fochive is hosting an art gala displaying his works in Portland on Oct. 6, the culmination of a lifetime of experiences and a newfound commitment to a long-term passion.

It’s a major diversion from the grind of professional soccer, but a welcome one. Fochive’s creativity was evident from a young age. The first toy he ever 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 globe — found himself narrowly focused on what could land him a college scholarship and an opportunity to continue his studies. Soccer was the easy answer and Fochive was a standout, eventually playing at Hawaii Pacific University and, later, at the University of Connecticut.

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

“Whatever I was studying, I would always take one or two classes — and nobody would know — I would just sign up and take an extra class of art, or history of art, or film,” Fochive said. “Anything that had to do with art so I could learn some things. I was just interested.”

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

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

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

No matter where he’s lived, Fochive has connected with — and been influenced by — his fellow West Africans. Some of them have been teammates on the Timbers, including Fanendo Adi of Nigeria and Larrys Mabiala of France by way of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Adi is even planning on sponsoring the art gala in some way, while Mabiala will purchase a painting “if I can afford it.”

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

“That’s the 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 aren’t scarce, but they’re being stolen and taken advantage of by the West. So people tend to develop this mentality not because they’re naïve, but because they want to be happy.”

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

“We need security people, we call the Cameroonian guys,” Mabiala said, laughing. “They’re strong but not very smart.”

In reality, Mabiala is in awe of Fochive’s creative aptitude. And he connects on a deep level with his teammate and friend from a cultural perspective.

“We come from about 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 that. The fact that he’s been able to travel so much has helped open up his mind and see different things and different art. I’ve been traveling as much as him, but I just don’t have the same skills.

“He really found out that he could actually do something out of soccer. It’s been very helpful for him, and I’ve been there from the beginning. The accomplishment of putting together this art show is something amazing.”

Under the pseudonym Ivan Yaffe (Fochive’s middle name followed by the Hebrew word for beautiful), Fochive will unveil and put on sale his collection of works titled, “Call Me Bantu,” at his showcase. 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 like I have intention when I’m painting. It’s just a vibe. When I’m done, I look at it like a spectator. If you have an intention, you’ll stall. You can’t manipulate art. Art manipulates you. You respond to colors, to a vibe. And it will tell you what it needs.”

Fochive’s art show is scheduled for 6:30-9:30 pm Oct. 6 at Akadi (1001 SE Division Street). A link to purchase tickets to the 21-and-over event can be found at ivanyaffe.com and admission is $100 per person, which includes complimentary wine and small appetizers. 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 they said people would be interested in seeing what I could do with this,” Fochive said with a smile. “I was like, ‘Yeah, the community only cares about soccer.’ But I realized that can’t be true, because I don’t only care about soccer and that’s my job. So, I thought that I should show it to people. I hope it’ll be a good turnout and that people will open their minds to what I have to offer.”

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

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