East Meets West
Artist Lin Fei Fei develops cross cultural opportunities for other artists
By Daniel Barnes
Although a budding rock star artist in her native China, Lin Fei Fei didn’t know a soul in Sacramento when she and her Detroit-born boyfriend moved here in August 2015. Lin completed her MFA at the prestigious Lu Xun Academy of Fine Arts in Shenyang, a city with a population of more than 8 million, and participated in art shows across Asia and Europe. She also was named one of the 10 “Contemporary Chinese Artists of the Future” by the Wang Shi Kuo Art Foundation in Beijing.
A swift case of culture shock came in the form of the sleepy Sacramento suburbs. “I come from a big city, and the first time I got to Roseville, everything was so quiet, and everything was so slow,” she says.
“I was depressed for a while, because I had just graduated, and I was full of
energy. I wanted to do things, I wanted to travel and explore, but I felt like I was lost in an ocean.”
Language initially was a barrier, but Lin’s outgoing nature, insane talent and innate curiosity in other people and cultures won out. It wasn’t long before she began making allies in the Sacramento art scene, while still maintaining her contacts in China. “Slowly, I tried to build relationships and connect with people on Facebook, go to different galleries and introduce myself,” she says. “I worked to help introduce several Sacramento artists to China, offering them opportunities to show and sell their art in China.”
A connection with local artist Gabriel Sanford inspired Lin to bring Sanford’s work back to Shenyang, where Lin helped create the East Meets West International Art Exhibition at the Jolie Gallery in 2016. Sanford and Lin were the only two Sacramento-based artists to show at the exhibition, but that was only the beginning.
“The next year I tried to go to different art shows, meet people, and try to get to know more people, and show them the artistic talent in Sacramento,” she says.
Lin participated in the high-profile, large-form art installation Art Street in early 2017, which allowed her to connect with some of the most exciting, and often unheralded, figures in the Sacramento art world. Emboldened by these new connections and bolstered by corporate support, the second annual East Meets West show featured the work of a whopping 18 Sacramento artists.
Painter Andy Cunningham was the only featured artist besides Lin to travel to China with the show, which kicked off with an event that drew more than 300 people. “The show was received very well, a lot of people came to the opening,” he says. “People would come to the gallery and we’d have a sit-down discussion, a tradition there, but not so frequent in the U.S.”
Lin sold a piece of art before the show even opened in July 2017, and she credits a high level of Chinese interest in East Meets West because of the country’s booming art scene. “The economy is growing so fast, and people have actual money, and they want to buy art,” she says. “They’re curious about art, and they’re curious about what other people do from other sides of the world.”
For Lin Fei Fei’s part, curiosity about art and other cultures started at a very early age. She has been drawing every day since she was 6 years old, and she was exposed to the art and literature of other cultures through her father, who she describes as “a very romantic guy.” Along her artistic path, she acquired influence from professors and gained inspiration from European artists, including Francis Bacon, and female artists, such as Georgia O’Keefe.
Although she uses a variety of materials in her work, Lin specializes in intense oil paintings that blend the visceral with the sensual. “My work technically is the realistic style mixed with an abstract technique, and my theme is always around humanity and sexuality,” she says. “Different races and colors and cultures and backgrounds are shown, suggesting we all have the same weakness or desire.”
After a rocky start in Roseville, Lin has since moved to Midtown, where the urban energy is a little more her speed, and where she can bike to her studio on 21st Street. “People are nice, and the art scene is growing, but not crazy,” she says. “San Francisco or New York or Los Angeles is like a more mature person. I feel Sacramento is still a teenager, it’s growing.”
There are plans for more East Meets West-style exchange shows in the future, but for now Lin is focused on creating more art, showing in other cities and appreciating the diversity of her adopted hometown. “First time I came here, I feel this is a wonderful place because people are from different places and speak different languages,” she says. “This is the kind of place I’ve always been looking for.”