‘I Could Do One of Those’
Danny Fox was eagerly received by the Shoreditch crowd on 16th October. Great paintings, free gin and free beer were lapped up. He stood out of a stylish crowd with his grinning gold teeth, slicked back hair and stern face. In my eyes Danny’s multiplicity of talents possibly justifies him the label of contemporary, urban, Renaissance man. He is a unique interpreter of his experiences, making his canvases a requiem for the real and imagined, his Cornish past and London present, and the conventional or, more often, unconventional moments of his life.
The charm of his work is its blatant honesty. It pretends to be nothing other than an autobiographical narrative. By all accounts of his work, Danny Fox seems to be having a pretty interesting life, somewhat out of the ordinary. There aren’t many of us that can say we have fantasized into a realm of drunk cowboys and disorientated boxers, or even, in reality, visited Ladyboys of Bangkok. It is a further few that can, and actually have the balls to then translate this mass of information onto a canvas, putting themselves up for critique.
Some negativity towards his exhibition has been from people who dislike his naivety with the typical rebuttal being ‘I could do one of those.’ Trying to argue against this whilst sounding like you’re not sitting upon an art historical high horse is difficult. But here’s a shot at it anyway. Why should the objective of an art work be of lifelike representation? We all have a different standardisation which we use to view art and it is my belief that many people’s standards have been digested and remain unchanged since school. The education system of teaching art frustrates me. We all remember that moment in art class, being sat in a circle around a sad still life and being told to draw it. Those that could represent it to pinpoint precision were awarded and those that couldn’t, or didn’t want to, were condemned to the bottom of the class, demolishing any confidence they had in their creative capability. By having no formal education Fox escaped and went on to teach himself his likes and dislikes. He likes Basquiat, Matisse and Horace Pippen, amongst others he has sought out on his own accord. He is now able to paint whatever the fuck he wants in whatever which way he wants.
But where’s the skill in that? The skill lies in the transference from mind to matter, the composition and the magic. Yes, I did say magic, or for want of a better way of explaining, the ‘something’ when ‘something just works’. ‘Something’ that is unexplainable. This is the most integral part to art because it reminds us of our humanity. We are not simple beings, we are opinionated. If we could just be consistent then we could forget about subjectivity, but it’s just not in our human nature. A friend of mine condemned Fox for his style and yet loves Lowry because Lowry’s paintings ‘just work.’
Now here comes the comparison that will really irritate those that have disagreed with me to this point. Another fresh young thing who exhibited in London this month is James Mortimer. Like Fox he’s never had a formal, artistic education. Like Fox he paints using influences from his likes and dislikes, borrowing aesthetic from his travels, juxtaposing the real and imaginary. Both seem to have the same semi-autobiographical influences; the only difference is the style with which they have transferred from mind to matter.
“It would be tedious to just paint what’s in front of me, as art is about expressing oneself and giving substance to the soul, and quite frankly real life, as it is, is so boring.” Mortimer
Both artists are pursuing an expression. Mortimer is closer to a true to life representation but, by all means, he doesn’t paint in the traditionally, ‘correct’ sense. If we’re going to look at his work from that angle then it’s clear his perspective and shadow are totally off. Much like Dali, (apologise for the crude comparison) Mortimer has stylised an individual way of painting that helps to emphasise his surreal, eerie landscapes. Just as Danny paints in a style that emphasises the dirty realism with which he captures the crude characters of his life. Whether you like the style or not is a totally different matter and that is where the magic lies.
The problem with Danny Fox is that his work is lumbered with the abstract idea of being Cool. It’s a blessing as far as he’s got an audience, but a curse in that the scene that surrounds him overtakes some people’s perception of his style. Why shouldn’t a painting contain distortion? Life doesn’t always contain clear vision. Danny’s work is influenced by artists who abstained from representation in the discourse of art history and yet we disregard the history and judge him with the standardisation we were hindered with in school.
Personally, I would love to have the freedom to paint like Danny, but being such a little goody two shoes I have to paint in accordance with what society expects from me. If I hear anyone else say ‘I could do one of those’ then I seriously challenge you to do so.
Emily Ann Harris