Burn your work and Start Again: Artist Danny Fox On His New Exhibition, “Adder Among Choughs”
We meet with the artist to discuss his life as a new Angeleno, his artistic practice, and his intense interest in history.
A grandfather, whom he has never met, stands in traditional Scottish clothing joined by a pair of lions, a woman holding a baby, and a bottle of alcohol. At first glance, the painting “Highland Cream” appears as a collage of things that don’t seem to quite add up, but behind the layers of dried paint is a history that makes sense of it all.
The story begins before Danny Fox was born. His grandfather (who was Scottish) and grandmother moved to Africa (hence the lions) for work, where she got pregnant. They decided to move back home to the U.K but upon the arrival of the new baby came a bigger surprise: his grandmother’s infidelity became obvious once the child was born half black. Drinking ensued and thus the bottle was introduced and passed down the bloodline.
All of Fox's works portray a certain point of history, whether he lived it himself or pulled it from historical context, which he communicates through his abstract, post-impressionist, larger-than-life paintings. Symbolism plays a vital part of his storytelling, where the more you stare the more you see what is hidden inside the canvas.
Director Nicholas Cinque took us on a private tour of the exhibition “Adder Among Coughs” at the S|2 Gallery in Los Angeles, running until November 17. Like the choughs, which is a type of common bird found in Cornwall (Fox’s hometown), Fox broke from his flock to pursue a life here in the states near Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles. With much of his newer work inspired by the homeless population and his new life in Los Angeles, the group of six canvases (and introducing Fox’s first wooden sculptures) plays on the idea of moving away from the norm and the consequences that follows.
“I think that sense of divergence in these historical moments, that’s the core of it. These histories and the case of the title is represented in these moments where you kind of have to make a decision: are you going to go for it and move forward or are you going to stay where you are at? That is what the paintings are about,” said Cinque.
The balance of historical figures and abstraction gives the viewers the liberty to interpret the characters of each painting to their own perceptions, which puts the viewer into the role of storyteller.
1. The press release for the exhibition says, “These characters are all united by a shared departure from family, social norm or civilization.” You play a lot on historical moments of divergence--do you feel like you are an "Adder among choughs" now that you are living in Los Angeles?
It's someone else's understanding of the work but it's close to the point. Historical moments of divergence I agree with, but also the other side of the coin - what leaves one place, must arrive in another. Great art has come from the meeting of cultures, continents, and people. The title of the show 'Adder Among Choughs' refers to my youth in Cornwall and the shit you've got to get up to, to get where you're going. Los Angeles is the kind of place where you can be whatever you fancy, so you have to watch for snakes.
2. Did the fact that this would be a West Coast exhibition cause you to approach the work differently?
There is no standard approach to the work so it's hard to say what and why it changes. Of course Los Angeles has had an effect on the work itself but I don't know about an approach to a show. I wish I could say something more interesting, I don't want to bullshit everyone. I made three wood carvings for this show so that was a change of speed. It's a longer process than painting. It was good to slow everything down and listen to the radio and chip away at it.
3. What is the best advice you've been given? Any advice you'd give to a struggling artist?
When I was about 21 someone told me to burn all my work and start again. I didn't realize at the time but it was good advice. I don't have any advice for anyone struggling, except to enjoy it while it lasts.
4. I've read that you tried for several years to get into an art school but it didn't work out, so you are very much self-taught. If you could go back and go to school, would you?
I applied once to please a girlfriend but I was turned away. By the school and the girl. Thank fuck.
5. Some of your paintings from your show “Onion under water,” you said, were inspired by skid row in downtown Los Angeles; what interested you about it?
I just wanted to make paintings about my immediate surroundings. I didn't mean to end up in that area.
6. What do you attribute your success to?
Self-loathing and porridge every morning.
Written by Erick Montano