[September 12 2014]
After ascending the winding staircase into Cornish painter Danny Fox’s flat in Kentish Town, what immediately greets any viewer isn’t your standard living room, but countless giant paintings, stacked up against the walls. Overlooking the interweaving train lines of the London Underground system and accompanied solely by a pair of painted Grecian-inspired urns, a cacophony of paint, brushes and a small cooker; the color, imagery and texture of Fox’s paintings hold forth with a strength of presence that feels almost inimitable. Amidst what might seem like typical studio chaos, Fox calmly shifts his expansive canvases around the room, endlessly revealing works where storytelling and painting often meet, which Fox, unnecessarily humbly, never himself seems satisfied with.
Due to be exhibited this October at the Tramshed’s Cocknbull Gallery in Shoreditch, the twenty-five works will form one tapestry of paint, pushed up against its low ceilings, engulfing the viewer in Fox’s visual world. While his vision for each body of work or exhibition might totally differ in the imagery and symbolism he includes, in this series various particular motifs and figures consistently repeat themselves. Separated by flattened, empty space that vibrates often with just a single color, both the figurative, symbolic and decorative elements hang onto the canvas as if designs on a sheet of flash tattoos. While boxers, horses, cowboys, miners, snakes, fruit, patterns reminiscent of ancient Greek decoration, transsexuals the artist met with his girlfriend in Thailand, strippers found in Dalston clubs… all blend together in the artist’s imagination, the narratives behind each work often come from stories in Fox’s own memory or personal history. Crouching in front of one painting he explains: “This painting is of a fisherman and a miner, it’s to do with Cornwall where I’m from. Fishing and mining were the main Cornish industries before they dried up. So here you’ve got a miner with a mining canary tapping on his helmet, and a fisherman trying to get his head around selling ice cream, which represents the main industry there now, tourism.”
Fox disappears into the apartment, returning with a heavy text that he slings onto the table in front of me, a book cataloguing folk art from his native county that he refers to as the “Holy Bible.” Turning to a well-thumbed page, the artist tells me of his upbringing in a little house, which stood opposite the house of fisherman and “Outsider” artist Alfred Wallis. Fox’s first experience of art, Wallis’s sprawling naïve depictions of fishing boats all in bluish tones maintain a spatial resemblance uncanny with his own work, with a distinct lack of depth between each hovering form in his paintings, unusual for a landscape painter that might otherwise be pedantically concerned with depicting accurate perspectival illusionism. Biographically, with Wallis a fisherman as well as a painter, Fox seems to be drawing a parallel between his self as an artist while maintaining direct association with his working class background. Aside from his early exposure to Wallis and an interest in Graffiti throughout his youth, Fox had no formal art education. Declining to take on the title of a “Self-Taught” artist, however, he insists that he didn’t teach himself anything but just “Sat there and went for it.” From the abundance of paintings stacked upon one another and barely any room for more, to his modest eagerness to show them to visitors and constant painting-over of earlier scenes, it seems like this attitude of ardent dedication to his work unquestionably remains. Text Antonia Marsh and photo Bella Howard