Open Frequency 2009: Nick Fox selected by Paul Stone

Open Frequency  2009:  Nick Fox selected by Paul Stone Nick Fox, Rush, 2007. Cut out acrylic paint and ink. 19cm diameter

Paul Stone profiles the work of Nick Fox

Nick Fox’s paintings and objects are a combination of fine art and craft, romantic desire and explicit eroticism, decorative pattern and loaded symbolism.

He employs this exploration of the symbiotic relationship between these pairings in a reflection on both the historical contexts of the art object and other artefacts, as well as in the subtle unravelling of systems of pictorial and personal codes of concealment.

The content of Fox’s work is underpinned by the method of its creation. He painstakingly builds up layers of acrylic paint and drawing on sheets of glass, a process that necessitates working on individual pieces over long periods of time. Working from the front backwards the glass is finally inverted and the painting removed. The final work consists of a skin of paint, a malleable entity without support. Fox takes these flexible elements and cuts and trims, inlays and embellishes them. The pieces’ final presentation may take the form of wall-based paintings- with the delicate skins backed onto boards, or doily-like forms sandwiched between sheets of glass, or as sculptural works draped over rods, or found furniture supports such as period tables.

Fox blends an elaborate domesticity with the subtle articulation of romance, desire and fantasy. Whether aping the elaborate decorative pattern of mass-manufactured doilies or preciously handcrafted Victorian lace making, his surfaces are familiar and inviting, luring the viewer deeper to study the pictorial elements within. This delicateness veils the symbols and messages contained in the work. In addition to the evident borrowings from the Romantic and Vanitas painting traditions, Fox also draws on Florography – a complex system of codes employed by Victorian lovers to communicate messages of desire – in the process, circumnavigating what was deemed socially acceptable to be spoken. But these floral idylls are often rendered in dark and muddy colours that, along with the multiple layering of Fox’s painting process, create a toxic fug, an Eden after the fall, one where innocence has been banished.

Fox’s landscapes are populated by figures, predominantly male and often engaged in sexual acts, whether solo or with others. Often culled from contemporary pornography, rather than jarring with their surrounds, his subjects seem at home, lost in self-absorption and the pursuit of their own pleasure. Fox’s juxtaposition of florid romanticism and the explicit representation of the sexual act are neither intended nor appear as ‘shocking’. Likewise, both are equally valid systems of articulation of desire. Whilst Victorian flower codes might be more palatable a system of secret language to some, equally pornography has established its place both within the mainstream as well as various subcultures, of which art might be considered one. As Susan Sontag wrote: ‘From the standpoint of social and psychological phenomena, all pornographic texts have the same status; they are documents. But from the standpoint of art, some texts may well become something else’.1

Fox’s figures have been described as ‘preserved as in aspic, like characters in a fairytale imprisoned in a mirror’.2 Reference to the mythological figure of Narcissus is hard to avoid when considering the work. A further literary (and, like Fox’s interest in Florography, another nineteenth century) reference, might be Oscar Wilde’s 1891 novel The Picture of Dorian Gray. In this the narrator, a painter named Basil Howard, inscribes his desire onto the posed body of the young and beautiful Dorian by painting his portrait. Within the novel’s narrative structure, Dorian’s role is to provide a surface upon which others project their own self-representations, onto which the artist’s desires are inscribed. This external gestural manifestation creates a ‘sign’, one that signifies the artist’s displaced ‘interiority’.

In Victorian times, ‘invert’ was a word used to describe those whose sexuality deviated from the norm, ones yet to ‘speak their name’. Fox has playfully found his own way of inverting the coded articulation of desire, both past and present, and suggests that this is an ongoing process. His work, albeit quietly, is both aesthetically transgressive as well as sexually transgressive, a representation and a mirror of our, and perhaps his, own desires, inhabiting the space between longing and disappointment, beauty and corruption.

1. Susan Sontag, 'The Pornographic Imagination', published in Styles of Radical Will, Secker & Warburg, 1967

2. Clive Jennings, text to accompany the exhibition, Nick Fox, Nectary, Lawrence Graham, London, 2007

Paul Stone, June 2009
Paul Stone's research for this profile was assisted through a Crafts Council Spark Plug Curator Award.

Artist's biography

Nick Fox (b. 1972, Durban, South Africa) currently lives and works in London and Newcastle upon Tyne. He studied at John Moores University, Liverpool (1992 - 95) and the Royal Academy of Art, London (1998 - 2001). Recent solo exhibitions include Phantasieblume, The Centre for Recent Drawing, London (2009), Nectary, Lawrence Graham, London (2007), Unveiled (Nick Fox with Francis Picabia), MOCA, London, and Nick Fox, New Work, Royal Academy Schools Gallery, Hornsey, London (2006). His work was included in the group exhibitions Nature 00, Contemporary Art Projects, London (2008), The Baltic Frame, Arena Gallery (part of the Liverpool Biennial, 2008), and Jerwood Contemporary Painters, Jerwood Space, London, which then toured to BayArt, Cardiff, and The Lowry, Salford (2007-08).

Nick Fox is based in London and Newcastle upon Tyne.

View Nick Fox's profile > 

About Paul Stone

Paul Stone has been based in Newcastle upon Tyne since 1986, moving to the city to study Fine Art at Northumbria University, both on the BA and MA courses. Having exhibited as an artist since 1990, he curated his first exhibition at Newcastle’s (now defunct) Zone photographic gallery in 1993. His involvement in other projects includes time as a Co-Director and Curator of Waygood Gallery and Studios, Newcastle (1997-2001), Newcastle Curator for the LMN (Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle), a cross-regional project consisting of exhibitions in each of the three cities (2000), Curatorial Advisor to HART, Hull (2001), co-curator and organiser of Vane Export (Stockholm, 1999) and Outlanders (Newcastle, 2001) for BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead, as part of their B4B pre-opening programme. He was awarded a Crafts Council Spark Plug Award for curatorial research in 2009 and is also an Editorial Production Assistant for a-n The Artists Information Company

Stone has been involved with Vane since the organisation’s foundation in 1997. There are three phases to the history of Vane’s activities. The first consisted of four large-scale annual events acting as an umbrella for a number of diverse exhibitions across the city of Newcastle and the surrounding region (1997-2000). The second was a series of curated exhibitions, often involving working with invited national and international partner curators or galleries (2002-03). Having staged the majority of exhibitions and events up until this point in temporary venues, the third phase was the opening of a permanent gallery space in Newcastle city centre in July 2005. The gallery presents around six exhibitions a year and participates in a number of international art fairs.

Open Frequency keeps you in touch with new developments in contemporary art practice from across the UK. The artists are selected and profiled by leading curators, artists and writers, presenting the work of artists to watch out for over the coming year. Open Frequency represents a forward-looking glance today of the artists who will be setting the agenda tomorrow.