Purple Magazine
— S/S 2015 issue 23

Langley Fox

2014_langley_fox_2 portrait by Sandy Kim

drawings

interview by AARON ROSE
portrait by SANDY KIM

 

When I was in high school, I had a horrible addiction to Goth chicks. If a girl didn’t have jet-black hair, alabaster skin, and a suitably morose attitude to match, she just didn’t register as female to me. It wasn’t until I got into therapy and my shrink absolutely commanded that I stop dating young ladies of this description that things began to change. I simply had to go cold turkey. There was a deep-seated psychological reasoning behind this demand, but I’ll save that for another time. The reason I’m bringing that up here is that the first time I saw Langley Fox’s drawings, I was immediately brought back to those high school days. Her works typify that innocent and awkward angst of youth that I found so attractive as a teen. Although Langley is no longer an adolescent, she has managed to keep a certain juvenile element in her creations. That’s not to say that she can’t draw; she has a very unique eye and a wonderful talent for rendering the human figure. Her works contain a quality that one could call Gloomth: a mixture of gloom and warmth. Langley Fox is a draftswoman, plain and simple, and there’s something about that that’s refreshing. In today’s art climate of neo-abstraction and post-genre conceptualism, her works could not be further from the current vogue, but still there’s something quite special about what she does. It’s intangible, but when one considers Langley Fox, there’s a whole story of paradoxes. Most narratives begin with her illustrious family history. She is the great-granddaughter of Ernest Hemingway. Her mother, Mariel, is an Oscar-nominated actress; and her sister is a young actress and model Dree Hemingway. Langley does some modeling on the side as well, but after one speaks with her it’s clear that her art is her primary focus. In fact, she dropped the Hemingway name a few years ago so she could be considered as an artist on her own merits. So far, this has materialized primarily in the form of illustration commissions for various magazines and fashion labels, but according to her she’s trying to change that. Whether that happens or not, there’s something about what she does that is worth celebrating. After speaking to her for this interview, I started to realize that knowing as much as I do about art is sometimes as much a hindrance as a gift. Fox has a certain confidence that comes from complete honesty, innocence toward her practice, and a real love for what she’s doing. I should note that none of this is conscious on Fox’s part. She’s just doing what she’s always done — which is drawing. While her works might embody some of the morbid traits that my psychiatrist warned me about so many years ago, for some reason I didn’t find that same darkness here. That could be because she’s become a total pro at masking her damage, but I prefer to think that the twisted beauty of Langley Fox and her subjects comes from a genuine love of the absurd, an attraction to the abnormal, and a celebration of the weird. Where these artworks take her in the future should perhaps not be the conversation. Instead, maybe we should just let them speak for themselves while we sit back and enjoy her whimsical scribblings.

BRAID Braid, graphite on paper

 

AARON ROSE — Was there a catalyst event you can remember where you understood that you had a talent for drawing?
LANGLEY FOX — I always knew that I loved drawing, and I always wanted to be an artist. When I was in kindergarten, my best friend’s mom was an artist, and I always thought that was so cool. Also, I’m a bit dyslexic, and I was just so bad at reading and spelling and even talking that I just felt more comfortable with drawing. I wasn’t really a confident artist. It was something that I wasn’t necessarily good at, but I definitely wasn’t bad at it. I was so insecure about all the things I was bad at that being able to draw made me happy. It was something in my life that I couldn’t beat myself up about.

AARON ROSE — Do you remember your earliest drawings?
LANGLEY FOX — One of the first things I learned to draw was simple five-pointed stars. I would always draw these little star people. I wanted to draw people, but I didn’t know how, so I would just draw a star and make the top cone the head and then draw in arms and little feet. You know, basic children drawings.

AARON ROSE — So you just kept developing from there?
LANGLEY FOX — I always took art classes in school. I took afternoon art classes, mostly in drawing and painting. I always was drawn to art and, to a certain extent, crafts. I was really shy as a kid, and you don’t really want to be with anybody when you make art, so I’ve just always done it.

AARON ROSE — It’s definitely a loner’s pastime. Were you really a loner when you were a kid?
LANGLEY FOX — Oh, for sure! My sister spoke for me until I was, like, six. I just didn’t talk. I don’t think I even had a friend until I was in elementary school. I was really weird, too. I had a lot of personality, but I didn’t have enough confidence to really expose it. I started dyeing my hair at seven. I had my hair cut really short and wore weird clothes with pom-poms all over them, but I couldn’t talk! I was trying to put something out there, but I just wasn’t really able to express it. So I didn’t really have an easy time making friends.

AARON ROSE — What do you think you were trying to put out? Were you just trying to announce how “different” you were, or was it more political or about being anti-society?
LANGLEY FOX — No! I was definitely not anti-society. Since I was really young, I’ve been very in touch with who I’m comfortable being. Even if I couldn’t always speak my mind, I saw something and wanted to be it; and I had the honesty to give myself what I wanted to look like. So I think I was just exploring different ways of dressing up. You know, in the same way as I create a character on a page, I was inventing who I wanted to be from one day to the next.

AARON ROSE — Who have been your artistic heroes?
LANGLEY FOX — I’ve always been a big fan of Tim Burton’s work, especially his classic stuff. The way he develops characters in the sense that it’s like this eerie, creepy monster, but there’s always an underlying innocence. There’s always something really beautiful about it. Even his male characters have something feminine about them, too. I like their mystical, dark, but not really dark, more misunderstood quality. I’m not really into scary things, but his work isn’t really scary to me. There’s always something slightly comical about it. Plus, I think I look like a Tim Burton character.
Hightops Tennies, graphite on paper
AARON ROSE — You primarily draw women. Is there a reason for that?
LANGLEY FOX — I do! I guess I just like pretty things. Girls are much easier to draw than guys. When I’m drawing a girl, I don’t want to put too many lines on their face. You don’t want to age them. You want to keep them really smooth. Plus I am a girl, so I kind of understand it. With guys, the more detailed I get, the better, and that means that the better I get at drawing, the more interesting my guys will probably be. I’ll be able to put in that detail and learn how to add character without adding age. That’s fascinating to me. But in general I’m just more comfortable with drawing girls. It’s like dressing myself up.

AARON ROSE — Do you ever think about the idea that all of these different women you’re drawing are actually all self-portraits?
LANGLEY FOX — They say when you draw from your memory that you emulate your face. That’s just because you look at yourself every day. So when I’m drawing a female,
I just draw what I know best, which many times happens to look like me. When I draw my friends, I don’t necessarily think that it’s a portrait of me. I think that when I was in school my drawings looked a lot more like me. But over the years, I’ve taught myself different shapes of noses and eyes, and I’m more familiar with shading in different ways. I think my drawings probably look less like me now.

AARON ROSE — In today’s contemporary art world, there is a very solid line between what professionals call serious art and what is commonly known as illustration. Your work really rides that line. I’m wondering if you think about that?
LANGLEY FOX — I get confused. I think what I was doing early on was definitely illustration, and now I’m moving into more of a fine-art direction. I don’t know if I should tell people that I’m a freelance illustrator. When I say that I’m an illustrator, most people think I do things on the computer. Other people think that I draw for children’s books. So I don’t know…

AARON ROSE — But you do have aspirations to be a fine artist, right?
LANGLEY FOX — Yes! I mean I like doing commissions, but my long-term goal is to do bigger things in galleries. But commissions make more money, so I don’t know. I’ll probably move into being a fine artist in the end. To tell you the truth, I don’t really know the difference.

AARON ROSE — Well, there’s always the precedent of an artist like Warhol. He was an illustrator for most of his early career, and he made the switch quite seamlessly…
LANGLEY FOX — I just kind of went for illustration. I went to school for fashion design, and when I got out I didn’t really want to go into fashion right away. I mean, fashion right now is just terrible. So I just figured I would start by getting my name out there as an illustrator.
Shark Shark!, graphite on paper
AARON ROSE — That leads to another question I have, which relates to your work in fashion in front of the camera. In many ways, the career of a model could not be more the antithesis of the work of a fine artist. Do you have a hard time balancing that?
LANGLEY FOX — I definitely never intended to model. It was so scary for me. Being put on the spot like that. I’ve gotten so much better at it, but it is really different. I could never just be a model. It’s not in my DNA strand. I don’t think of myself as a model, but I still do it. It’s true that they’re really opposite careers. One is so public and all about connecting with random people, and the other is so introverted. In some ways, it’s nice to have them both because they kind of even each other out. I spend far too much time by myself when I’m drawing, so being forced to do something and to be a social being again is good for me. But sometimes the modeling becomes too much, and I just go back into my hole. Also, I get to meet a lot of people, and that’s good for doing collaborations and getting my artwork out there, but fashion weeks just break me down. I just tell myself that the more modeling I do, the more artwork I have to do to balance it out. You win some; you lose some.

AARON ROSE — I get that.
LANGLEY FOX — Plus, I’m a workaholic. I’m always busy, and I really like that. I just got a new studio, so I’m into the whole “wake up and go to work” thing. I like structure in my life. But the modeling’s hard. One day I have to go to Australia, then I have to go somewhere else, then I’m tired, and I have to draw. Everyone’s always like, “Why don’t you just draw on the plane?” I can’t draw on planes! I mean it’s jumping around; the lighting is terrible — my agents are always trying to get me to draw on the plane. It doesn’t really work like that. Art is a struggle. You have to really sit there and do it. You have to teach yourself to be dedicated and not move for six hours. There are so many other distractions, too — like sometimes I’ll wake up at six in the morning and scrub my floor with my hands — weird.

AARON ROSE — You’ve referred to yourself as weird a few times in this conversation. Why do you consider yourself weird?
LANGLEY FOX — Well, it’s definitely one of my favorite words. I think my dad used to always call me weird. But I don’t know, I just feel like a weird individual. There’s always an underlying tone in my work that’s a bit dark. But it’s not conscious. It just happens. Maybe it goes back to that Tim Burton thing, where it’s just a little dark. I mean I’m not satanic or anything. I don’t worship the devil…

AARON ROSE — Some great artists have.
LANGLEY FOX — I do like witchcraft, though. There’s just a mystery to things that are creepy. It makes you think. If I can make you kind of tilt your head when you look at something I’ve made, and it leads you to develop your own ideas about what it means, then I’m happy. I like the weird. I’ve always been into magic. You know, the belief that there is that energy out there. I often say that I feel like I can do magic. A drawing to me is magic. When I finish a piece, I’m always, like, “That’s magic!”.
Audrey+Bruno Audrey + Bruno, graphite on paper
AARON ROSE — But you’re not a Wiccan or anything?
LANGLEY FOX — No! But this is weird — when I’m making gifts for people, I try to put messages in them so they receive those. I put mental messages into the drawing. Maybe that’s my form of magic.

AARON ROSE — Is drawing fulfilling for you?
LANGLEY FOX — Being able to make things with your hands that don’t involve very much is fantastic. It drives me to keep doing it. It makes me happy. I love nature, too. I feel like I’m adding to the natural beauty. Like, “You gave me this. I’ll give you that!”

AARON ROSE — So you feel like you’re paying a debt back to nature?
LANGLEY FOX — I just feel like I’m fulfilling my life in a genuine, wholehearted way.

[Table of contents]

S/S 2015 issue 23

Table of contents

purple EDITO

purple NEWS

purple BEST OF THE SEASON

purple INTERVIEW

purple FASHION WOMEN

purple FASHION MEN

purple DOCUMENT

purple BEAUTY

purple LOVE

purple TRAVEL

purple SEX

purple PHILOSOPHY

purple TRAVEL

purple NIGHT

purple STORY

purple VISUAL ESSAY

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