February is a busy month for artist Nick Fox. Angus-Hughes Gallery is presenting its first solo exhibition by Nick Fox, Nightsong, which brings together a body of work created over the last four years, as well as new paintings, drawings and cyanotype prints. And Sutton House, a national Trust property, are showing Bad Seed (5 February – 27 March 2015), a major survey of the artist’s work.
The mainstay of Fox’s practice is his enduring fascination with social and symbolic codes of courtship, identity, culture, art history, myth and narrative. Quietly seditious, he explores these interests through a combination of painting, drawing, installation, sculpture, moving image, sound, live art and intricately laboured objet d’art. Through each of these mediums the artist finds contemporary currency, personal symbol and cultural meaning of longing, seduction, desire and romance, while also revealing a highly personal vision, fusing and transforming sentiment, wisdom and emotional experience into visual-art forms.
Boat (2011) for example, takes its inspiration from Arnold Bocklin’s Painting Isle of the Dead (1883), and features real-time footage of a night ferry traveling across the North Sea in an endlessly repeating cycle. Close by sits a gold leafed Möbius strip. The video was made as a response to Fox’s repeat visits to Holy Island on the coast of Northumberland and Hå in Norway, representing mythological journey, emotional transition and transformation.
In Blue Moon: Knot (2012), one of a series of large-scale cyanotypes, the image of a ‘true love’s knot’ – once a common symbol on sailors’ wedding rings – has been developed overnight using the light of the full moon. All of me, some of me (2014), a configuration of multiple close-up body images also presented in cyanotype form, reveal a simultaneous abstract and intimate portrait of the artist through a process of self-evaluation and analysis. Elsewhere, the image of the lovers knot in reiterated in the work Valence (2012), this time taking the form of a series of physical large scale “drawings” cut from acrylic paint.
The paintings featured in the show consist of a suite of highly polished circular paintings, including the eponymous Nightsong (2012), each of which indicate Fox’s fascination with the gaze either as active voyeur or as passive witness. As always, his works are layered with literary references, in particular the writings of French novelist Joris-Karl Huysmans and Oscar Wilde, giving rise to a keen sense both of the pleasures and the limits of double meanings in the construction of codes. For Angus-Hughes Gallery, Fox has also produced a new series of small-scale paintings which quietly reveal fragments of hope, promise, love and lust through an overabundance of decadent botanical forms.
Close to the paintings sits Murmuring (2009-2015), a pool of paint which in previous displays has resembled a dark oily stain of water, around which stand a collection of sculpted glass objets d’art that are simultaneously reflected both in the pool, and the mirrored paintings, fusing a symbolic role of botanical imagery to Fox’s themes of desire, longing and loss. For Angus-Hughes, Fox has revisited the work, producing a site responsive golden pool of paint which flows across the gallery’s floor, introducing references to inside and outside, artifice and the natural.
Another work, Come Undone (2011), appears at first sight to be an intricately crafted lace object tantalisingly draped over a piece of furniture. In fact the object have been carefully cut from acrylic paint and the furniture elaborately sculpted from glass, the individual works revealing a devotion to labour in their process, prompting discussion about the subtle relationship between art and craft.
In his series of delicately observed figurative drawings, Fox transforms the found taboo image into one of intimate and emotive experience in which languorous male figures emerge from the surface of the paper. Elsewhere, in his carbon paper drawings, this emotive role is applied to a range of eclectic images given a symbolic dusting of gold; the gold dust used being a gift from Fox’s first lover almost twenty years ago.
Meanwhile, a version of Walter Dana and Bernard Jansen’s song, Longing for you, popularised in 1951 in a Vic Damone recording, and here re-configured as a repeating purely vocal track, drifts mournfully through the gallery, echoing the complexities and struggle to communicate across the emotional spectrum.
“On the face of it, Nick Fox’s Night song installations hark back to the romantic symbolism of such legendary late-19th century decadents as Oscar Wilde and Juris-Karl Huysmans. A drawing is adorned by gold dust that was apparently gifted to the artist by his first lover. A nocturnal film, The Holy Island of Lindisfarne, plays against a lyrical backdrop of the 1951 Teresa Brewer song Longing For You. It’s intimate art, half in love with heartbreak, longing and loss. In the hands of less skilled artists, such unashamed use of personal confession might come out all clichéd. However, with Fox it comes over as distinctive, and deeply lovely. “ - Robert Clarke, The Guardian (10th January 2013)
Nick Fox was born in Durban, South Africa in 1972 and lives in Newcastle upon Tyne and London. He attended John Moores University, Liverpool (1992-95) and Royal Academy Schools, London (1998-2001). Fox was a prize winner in the John Moores Painting Prize, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool in 2010. Recent group exhibitions include A Union of Voices: Horatio Junior, London, Sex Shop: Folkestone Fringe, Folkestone, In and out of windows: Vane, Newcastle upon Tyne, Eulogy: Vane, Newcastle upon Tyne, Between fact and fiction: Vane, Newcastle upon Tyne (2014), Winter Show, September, Berlin, Germany, Gifted: Chart, London, Luminous Language: Launch F18 (2013), New York, USA The Dorian Project, SecondGuest, New York, touring to Ana Cristea Gallery, New York, Anschlüssel: London/Berlin, C4RD Centre for Recent Drawing, London, International Print Biennial, Hatton Gallery, Newcastle (2012) (2012), The Future Can Wait presents: Polemically Small, Torrance Art Museum, Torrance, California, touring to Charlie Smith London, 40 Artists 80 Drawings, The Drawing Gallery, London, touring to the Burton Art Gallery and Museum (2012), Baltic Square, Arena Gallery, Liverpool Biennial (2008), and Jerwood Contemporary Painters, Jerwood Space, London (2007).Solo exhibitions include Nightsong, Vane, Newcastle Upon Tyne (2013), Phantasieblume Nåchtlied, Ha gamle prestegard, Håvegen, Norway (2011), Phantasieblume, Vane, Newcastle upon Tyne (2010) and C4RD Centre for Recent Drawing, London (2009) and Unveiled (with Francis Picabia), MOCA London (2006).
Nightsong is a touring show which has already been displayed in Norway and Newcastle.