NEW YORK – Sotheby’s S|2 is pleased to present Onions Under Water, British painter Danny Fox’s first solo exhibition in New York. Organised by Sotheby’s Nicholas Cinque, Fox’s new paintings in the exhibition are inspired in part by his move to Los Angeles and Skid Row, the 54 block downtown area where Fox established his studio, this selection of new paintings depicts a menagerie of decorated characters that radiate a sense of unquantifiable style and swagger. Ahead of the exhibition opening, we asked the celebrated artist about symbolism, his process and what makes Los Angeles so compelling.
DANNY FOX IN HIS STUDIO. PHOTO BY JESSE CARMODY.
What inspired your move to Los Angeles?
I originally moved here last year for a two-month painting residency and then came back to use my friend Henry Taylor’s studio while he was in Mexico. I only intended on staying for a month that time. But after a few weeks, I liked what I had been making and realised I could get myself a much bigger space in LA than I had back home in London. So I took a studio on Los Angeles Street, Skid Row. Inevitably, that environment made its way into the paintings. I’m now living and working here.
How did your time in LA influence this new series of paintings?
I didn’t seek to live or work in Skid Row. It’s just where a studio happened to come up – but I’ve come to really like the neighbourhood. The things that struck me the most were the positives rather than the negatives. There is always music playing from boom boxes. People dance, as well as fight. Most people try to keep their area clean and tidy, although the smell of piss and shit is inevitable. I saw and met people with pure style, not because of their circumstances, but despite them. Everything I know or think I know about Skid Row is observed. I see all of life down here, from the comedic to the tragic, the ridiculous to the sublime, the natural to the unnatural and maybe even the supernatural.
Do you feel like you’ve changed as an artist since moving to LA? If so, how?
It’s more like – as an artist, one is always changing. That is the aim; to keep changing, keep evolving and pushing your work into new places. The need to change makes me travel to new places to keep progressing.
DANNY FOX, THE SALT KILLED THE RAMEN, 2016. TO BE FEATURED IN SOTHEBY'S S|2 EXHIBITION, DANNY FOX ONIONS UNDER WATER.
Is there a particular theme or message you want to convey with this S|2 show?
I try to avoid the message. I just paint what I see and what I experience. Everybody knows that homelessness, drugs and alcohol problems are bad. I don’t need to say that in my paintings. I just paint what I see and try to show the beauty in life that exists even in the cracks.
Much of your work consists of two major types of characters – horsemen and boxers. What is the significance behind them?
Horses in particular are a much explored genre. That classical aspect really attracts me. But I didn’t necessarily select them as reoccurring motifs – I just keep painting until it takes me somewhere else. I don’t think I want to paint any more horses or boxers for a while after this show. Maybe they’ve run their course – ha!
How did your interest in boxers come about?
Originally I was attracted to the red spot of their gloves in an abstract sense – that was the first reason I painted one. Since then I’ve started to use the boxer as an image, similar to the horses. It has everything that is destructive but also beautiful. I’ve been going to some fights recently, so that has re-sparked my interest in the image of the boxer.
DANNY FOX IN HIS STUDIO. PHOTO BY JESSE CARMODY.
Oranges seem to be another reoccurring object in these new paintings. Where do they come from?
Yes, I originally put the oranges in because there was an orange tree outside the bedroom window of the house I stayed in before I found my current studio. It was the first thing I saw every morning. It made me happy – very simple. I like still life painting, but they’re not so still. They’re thrown up in the air.
Can you speak a bit about how you title your paintings?
I enjoy words and the whole process of titling paintings. I like some poetry and write some bits myself. Sometimes I see the paintings built like poems, the way the backgrounds get made up of abstract objects or landscapes that hopefully deliver a punch at some point. For instance my Trials At Plymouth, refers to the football club Plymouth Argyle which is near where I’m from in Cornwall. When I was a kid I had trials there. Growing up in England, having trials at a football club is almost a mythical thing. If you hear someone has trials it’s the rapture, although most don’t make it to play for an actual team, never mind a have a career. I was one of these kids – I gave up football and moved on, but I was close? A chance to have been a player? A shot in the dark, a place on the ark, just a game in the park. So, I painted the character wearing the shirt of Plymouth Argyle. I put this into the painting because when I look about on the street and talk to people, you realise that before Skid Row or before the job or whatever it is, that what now defines them are these experiences that make us. The near misses. Almost greatness. I saw someone the other day dribbling a basketball through the traffic, playing ball with moving cars! Who was he? Maybe he just had too much style for this life, didn’t want to play the game like everybody said it should be played. Also, the title just felt so colonial. It sounded like it could have been a historical event like the Declaration of Independence or something. Colonialism is something I’ve gone into before in my paintings and will probably continue to do – it’s still so evident in the society today.
Your hometown, St Ives, has a great history of fostering artists and talent. How do you feel that art scene compares to the one you’re part of now in LA?
St Ives had a famous art colony in the 1950s, and not much has happened there since. It’s like talking about Bob Dylan in the cafes of Greenwich Village. The history was interesting and gave you something to think about, but there was no art scene there at all. The art scene I’m part of now is international and based on interest in individuals rather than a place.