Danny Fox on Nostalgia, Sleaze and Mythological Painting
How often, in contemporary culture, do we see artists who are permitted to exist publicly without being confined to the claustrophobic elitism of the art world? The stern structures dictating what a successful art career is now are so pre-formed to a fashionable hierarchy, that artists who work outside of the established gallery system are almost totally ignored.
However, one artist breaking these rules is Danny Fox, a young, London-based painter who has escaped comforming with art industry trends, while simultaneously creating a healthy amount of hype around his own work. He has never been to art school, and taught himself everything that he knows, and so Fox’s paintings express a curious new form of modern classicalism. Back in 2014, artist Sue Webster visited his studio, which resulted in the first serious exhibition of his work. Now, one year on, the artist has progressed to making a new selection of paintings for his latest show, As He Bowed His Head To Drink, which delves into various new ideas of sophistication and abstraction while still remaining raw and unforgiving.
There is a largely uninhibited nature to Fox’s paintings, much of which stems from his own experiences of London’s seedier nightlife, and his apathy towards playing any kind of careerist game. His pictures juxtapose a variety of themes relevant to him; from the mundanity and sleaze of traditionally male working class culture, to the mythical figures of a context-less history, all set against a thoughtful palette of contrasting colours. Strippers align themselves with childlike animals, and human figures from an imagined past.
Yet, simultaneously, there is a purity to his paintings, which sits amongst the fleeting glimpses of perversion and aimless aggression. Having grown up in St Ives, Cornwall, a place known for having produced naïve painters such as Alfred Wallis, the respect and inspiration in space and serenity has infiltrated Fox’s, work materialising in an attractive contrast within his compositions.
On Tuesday Fox’s new exhibition of paintings will be presented at the Redfern gallery in Soho – one of London’s oldest contemporary art galleries – and fittingly, Fox will be the youngest artist to ever exhibit there. To find out more about Fox’s new work, we spoke to him about six topics currently important to him.
"When I was a kid I remember someone saying that horses were the hardest thing to draw, and that always stuck with me. I didn’t paint a horse until I started working on the antique markets, and I found this little model horse with strange bendy legs. I did a lot of drawings of it, but didn’t think I would ever do a big painting of one. The first big horse painting I ever did is going to be hung in this show along with the new work. Its just seemed right to have it in there. I remember the day I painted it, i was going to scrape it back but it was a hot day so went for a walk up the Heath instead, and when I got home, my girlfriend Tatiana was stood in front of it crying, so I knew I was onto one."
"Historical paintings are fun to do. I haven’t done that many that are actually based on a historical event. Most are more mythological, or re-imagined to the point where they’re not recognisable. There’s a painting in this show of George and the Dragon, and there’s also a Corpus Christi. So to some it’s history, to some it’s myth, to others it’s bullshit. To me it’s just painting."
"I’m convinced my generation must be the most nostalgic. I was about 21 when the internet started becoming commonplace – we all got hotmail addresses and used internet cafes – so it's strange to be nostalgic about a time that was so different, but that wasn’t very long ago at all. I'm sure its the same for generations before us, who look back on their simple childhoods and wonder if all this technology is really what we need, but the internet is heavy. It's all consuming. I think my generation is nostalgic about a time when there was no internet. But if we are talking art then I’m not nostalgic."
"Do you know the song Nice and Sleazy by The Stranglers? It’s one of my favourite songs of all time. ‘We came across the West Sea,/We didn't have much idea of the kind of climate waiting,/We used our hands for guidance like the children of a preacher,/Like a dry tree seeking water,/Or a daughter/Nice 'n' sleazy/Nice 'n' sleazy does it.’ I can’t really think of that word without thinking of those great lyrics. Painting always has a sleazy edge to it, because it’s voyeuristic. You have to be able to see something beautiful that isn’t necessarily there."
"Aggression is imperative to stay alive. You learn it on the tarmac in the playground. Its natural. I don’t mean violence – although that can be a part of it – I just mean spirit. If I didn’t use aggression in my work I then I couldn’t do it, it would beat me. You’ve got to refuse to lay down, even after years of knocks. After determination, hard work, discipline and all the usual stuff has run out on you need to reach down into the aggression and pull the fire up to keep going."
“There are a lot of good painters out there. I've met some great ones this year. It seemed like, during the summer just gone, they all came to London to do shows from America. Henry Taylor was here, we did plenty of drinking. Torey Thornton was here, but he doesn’t drink so we would get through pots and pots of tea, talking about painters new and old… It was fun. One night we were all at Henry's London studio in Whitechapel, Oscar Murillo was there too and we got into this four-way paint-off; everyone was painting one another, paint the other person. Funny night, that shit will never happen again."
By Reba Maybury