Currently reading : SB6 Archive (2012): In Conversation With Danny Fox
Where did you grow up and how did you end up in London?
I grew up in St Ives in Cornwall which is like a little fishing town that has now turned into a tourist town. I left there when I was about 17 and slowly worked my way to London in between Hastings and Cardiff.
Did you always want to move to London?
Not really, I followed a friend here.
What were you doing when you moved here?
When I was about 18, maybe 19, I ended up living in a squat in Brixton. There was this whole street of squats there. I ended up writing, drawing, just being a country boy in the city, really.
Did you always do creative things growing up?
Could you say more about the street with all the squats in Brixton? What was it called?
It was called St Agnes Place and it’s been demolished now. It was one street with houses facing each other all the way down and pretty much every one of them was a squat. One was lived in by Rastas and they knocked two houses into one; they turned it into a kind of temple where you could buy weed. It was pretty crazy.
Did you have connections to the people there before you moved to London?
My best friend did—we’d grown up together and escaped this rural town. He’d been having a really tough time; his mum had just gone to prison so we moved up together.
What was it like in the squat?
We were some of the very few white people there. The vibe was very paranoid. Paranoia over the police especially and there was a lot of talk of the illuminati. The Rastas were selling a lot of drugs, which explained a lot. There was this one Rasta, King Naptali? He really took us on. At his squat you had to go through a cage to get into the squat because there was no CCTV at this time and they were proper drug dealers. He summonsed me to his place and wanted to look through my sketch book because I drew people from around the street. He wanted me to touch up some of the drawings of him people that people had made in jail and gave me in return a big block of hash.
Did you have people you really looked up to? Did you have an special references to any fine art or popular art that inspired you?
I really liked graffiti actually because in Cornwall there wasn’t any. I was really sucked into that. Especially that new wave that happened around 2004 which used a lot of stencil work. There was the Dragon Bar on Old Street which was covered in graffiti and I really liked that.
You are 26 now and you’ve been moving about a lot. You were 19 when you properly moved to London. Do you now feel that you have a balance and a system for your artwork in your lifestyle?
Yeah, I mostly blame it on age. I’m much less capable of just turning up to a new town and being the new guy—which was always what I used to do.
It must also let you be more focused on what you do.
Yeah, because you have a body of work behind you that you can’t just erase, even if you wanted to.
So how would you describe how you afford your lifestyle? Juggling to pay the bills but also be able to travel and paint?
Well, painting is my preferred way of making money, and if I could just do that I could get by. But for traveling I do anything from building to buying and selling objects. I’d consider myself a bit of a wheeler dealer.
"He wanted me to touch up some of the drawings of him people that people had made in jail and gave me in return a big block of hash."
How long have you been making the kind of painting that is shown here?
I don’t think the paintings which I’m showing here look like anything that I’ve ever done before. But next week when I’m painting they will probably look totally different.
With the other things you do to make money, do you find a direct inspiration in these things? For example, do you ever feel inspired on a building site?
With building sites, I really enjoy it. But because they make you so tired there's no time to think about painting. I can come home, have a bath, and feel totally exhausted. A lot of the anxieties of the life of a painter just leave, and it’s really nice. But after a while I get this feeling that I really should be getting on with more than just lifting rocks.
Do you feel that there is an intellectual process when you paint? When you are not painting do you have a mental list of things that you would like to be getting on with or is it a very organic and natural process?
It’s completely instantaneous; I don’t even really feel like I’m using my brain when I’m painting. I have my eye on my hand and it just leaks out really. I feel guilty when I hear other people intellectualizing their work because I don’t. I don’t know if that is because I never studied, I suspect that that is what you are taught to try to do.
A lot of visual artists can’t actually talk about what they do, they have people who understand what they do, can formulate it, and can talk to buyers for them. There are people who specialize in that. I don’t think that should be your mission, I think you should be making beautiful art. There is a certain amount of understanding of the industry if you live as a painter.
I would be really wary of an artist who could speak about their work really well.
I totally agree.
I find that really suspicious, why can you talk about it? What’s your agenda? I can explain what painting is about but it's not intellectual.
You are making music as well, you’ve always had that 360-degree spectrum of creativity, which I feel is something I can relate to, too. Do you feel fulfilled as an artist in general? Do you feel like you are living that whole creative lifestyle? Do you feel, for example, that because you are getting tattooed you are around that art as well as musicians and artists and whatever else you may surround yourself with?
Well, it’s just the way it’s always been with music and art so I like to have a balance of both to keep myself constantly interested in either one.
Do you feel like they are both two sides of the same coin in some way?
They actually come from quite different places. With music, I don’t have a great desire to perform but it comes from more of a social place, especially now with the band. Not that I do it to be social, as far as sides of the coin go, but art is much more of a solitary state.
Do you feel that you are trying to convey or express two similar things with two different media? Or do you feel you are trying to express two completely different things with each medium?
No, the same place. The lyrics come from the same place as where the paintings come from.
What is your relationship with London like? You’ve been here for a while now. Do you feel that it's the right place for you? Do you feel that there is something especially inspiring here? You’ve traveled in the UK but you’ve also traveled around America. Do you feel especially connected to London?
I think it’s taken a while to get to the point where I’ve got my studio. I like it and I like my studio. America is good fun but I think I’d get on with more work here.
Do you think you could have this life somewhere else?
They say you can make new friends but you can’t make old ones. I love my friends and I need them and they need me.
I love that expression. Maybe we can talk about a couple of these pieces?
This one is a piece called ‘Eurosceptic’. I was listening to the radio and they were talking about eurosceptics, about England’s place in Europe. I started to think about Somalia. This is the island here. I was thinking about that kind of thing. That’s supposed to be a Somali pirate.
What’s the connection between England and the Somali Pirate?
Well there are a lot of Somalians on this street, they dominate this area and I see them every day. It took me about 10 minutes to paint this painting. It's not an intellectual thing.
Is Europe a notion that means anything to you?
I’m not a political person. I don’t think about it at all really.
Even on a cultural level? Have you traveled in Europe?
A little bit.
Do you feel more connected to people in France than you do to people in America, for example? Or in Italy?
No. I feel like I’m not connected to the rest of Europe at all. Because I can’t speak the languages. The cultures totally different. But with America were pretty similar these days, aren’t we? I’ve been thinking about space and I’ve been watching a lot of films about the end of the world and shit. I’ve been thinking about that type of thing, about paranoia, a lot of my friends are paranoid about the end of the world. I’ve been thinking about that type of thing. I’m interested in how you can go on with your everyday life, you can go to the pub and be talking to someone and in the corner of their mind they are just thinking, “we’re not going to last a year.” But then you have to snap back and be talking about model girls or something.
So that’s a pub conversation more or less?
What’s that little cross?
That represents, you know, not religion but people: us as humans. Sticking the cross in the ground.
Is that a sperm whale?
No that’s vomit; I left a gap around it so you could see it. These three paintings are like heaven, ideas of heaven. I used to live up the road and it was a really good point in my life. Me and my mate were going out with twins and we were living in this one-bedroom flat. We used to all sleep in the lounge. I was talking to him to the phone, he’s an American and I was thinking that that was a really good time.
You were dating twins?
Yeah, these are old found photographs which I’ve turned into situations. This one shows the horror as we turn up in heaven and were greeted by another flag. Can you imagine reaching there and seeing someone waving a flag you don’t recognize? It would be like, "Oh my God, we’ve done it again." And these are Whitney’s backing dancers, I was thinking about getting there and seeing them waiting there for her.
That’s cool, is there any other particularly relevant painting you’d like to talk about?
I’ve got a portrait of Dani Smith. I painted her because she’s a friend, you know? I wanted to paint all my friends. I started off with her but never ended up going down that road. This is the only one that survived. I really like it though. She’s beautiful, worth painting.
I wanted to ask you about the road trip in America? Where did you go, what happened?
I flew to San Francisco, met Liam. He was waiting for me with a bag of magic mushrooms. So we immediately started indulging in psychedelics. Which I’m not very good at at all.
I was going to ask if you’d done many psychedelics before?
I’ve always been the one who never buys the drugs but ends up being given them, which is pretty bad. I’m just not cut out for psychedelic drugs especially. So anyway, I got to San Francisco and started tripping immediately. I got there in the afternoon, it was cold but the sun was shining. I got a taxi to Idle Hand tattoo shop, we got drunk, we didn’t really have anywhere to stay so we were only there for two days. Then we went to Santa Cruz and met with more friends, Sully and Jamie. After two days of heavy drinking we found out we couldn’t hire a car because of legal reasons. We managed to get to Santa Cruz where we met Dannie, and her family had a car. We then drove down the coast to LA; it was beautiful. It took about three days to get down there, staying in motels along the way. When we got to LA we met up with Jamie’s friend, Tommy Alastra who is a movie producer. He showed us the ropes, Sunset Strip and Hollywood. He showed us a really good time. By that time reality for me was starting to crumble a little bit. We’d been doing those mushrooms every day, drinking really heavily. Uppers, downers, sidewisers, you know? LA is kind of messed up, we started to deteriorate mentally and physically. We all split up to stay with different people and at motels to recuperate. After a week we couldn’t get through to Sully; it turned out he had gone to somewhere near Vegas. He left us with the car and he was the only one who could drive it. So Dannie had to drive it back illegally to Santa Cruz, but she got it back in one piece, bless her. Then her brother gave us a lift back to San Francisco. Then again we had nowhere to stay, but luckily I met a nice girl.
How did you arrive to New York?
We flew from San Francisco to New York and stayed there for 10 days. It seems like a distant memory now, it totally fried me.