Danny Fox, aged 28, belongs to a very new generation – much younger than and (of course) much newer than the so-called Younger British Artists, who have dominated the London art scene since theSensation! exhibition held at the Royal Academy in 1997. Yes, that was nearly twenty years ago.
Born in St Ives, he grew up in a house very close to the habitation of Alfred Wallis, one of the best-known artists in a town famous for artists. Like Wallis, he is self-taught. He says now: “My grandma looked after me a lot when I was young. If I said I was bored, I got sat at the table with a piece of paper and pencil. I thought about this a lot while painting a series of still-life flowers recently. It must have stayed with me and I’m sure a lot of pre-computer age kinds had the same treatment. I didn’t paint humans till I was about 15 – my first girlfriend.”
Since then he has become something of a wanderer. When we first corresponded by email about his upcoming exhibition, Danny was in Moscow. A number of the paintings now being shown are images of the ‘ladyboys’ – boys who dress and behave like women – whom he encountered in Thailand.
The range of cultural references is extremely wide. One painting was inspired by the movie 12 Years A Slave. Another is a portrait of Ponce de León (1474-1521), the Spanish explorer and conquistador, who was the first governor of Puerto Rico, and who, according to legend, made an expedition to Florida in search of the Fountain of Youth. Yet another refers to Hemingway’s novel The Sun Also Rises (1926), a modernist classic that describes the adventures of a group of American and British expatriates who travel from Paris to Pamplona to watch the bullfights at the Festival of St Firmin.
Other paintings are more down to earth - they depict strippers at the White Horse, a Shoreditch pub famous for its pole-dancers. Others still feature, as I have already said, Thai ladyboys, met in Bangkok. The paintings in these categories invite comparisons with Toulouse-Lautrec’s fin de siècle images of Parisian nightlife, and with Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon, painted just a little later, which, as everyone knows, has nothing to do with the papal city, but which instead depicts prostitutes in a brothel in the Calle d’Avignon in Barcelona.
A general feature of Danny Fox’s work, despite his status as an autodidact, is the sophisticated awareness it shows of the strategies and triumphs of Early Modernist art, and in particular of the paintings of Picasso and Matisse, made in the earlier phases of their respective careers. The spectator does not have to look either far or deep to find allusions to, and occasional borrowings from, Picasso in particular. But good artists have always built on the work of their predecessors – it is foolish to pretend otherwise.
What gives particular pleasure here is just what is stimulating about aspects of early Parisian modernism – genuine cultural seriousness, mixed with a degree of mischievous sleaze. There is every sign that Danny Fox the artist will continue to grow and develop.