Central to Nick Fox’s painting practice is his fascination with narratives of desire. Often subversive, and made in combination with objects, drawings and context specific installation, the work takes the form of drawing and painting, installation, and intricately laboured Objet d’art. Fox’s practice is informed by disparate and sometimes contradictory reference points and layers of meaning.
“Nick Fox’s paintings are compounded of difference - complex and disparate layers of imagery and meaning borrowed from high art, domestic decoration and subcultural symbology. Referencing Neoclassicism, Victorian visual culture and contemporary pornography, they are simultaneously clear and elusive. They engage with the matter of paint, are painterly in execution and yet their surfaces are as un-‘painty’ as it’s possible to be [...]This is part of the system of concealment and disclosure which Fox uses as both the form and content of his works, and, uniquely, their process of production. [...] Built up slowly from layers of acrylic paint laid over glass sheets, this replaces the usual rewards of visible development, with deferred gratification and Fox finally delivers [...] fusions of fine art and craft which turn his works into exotic hybrids.”
Stephanie Brown, The Tuberose, the Incubus and Endymion from Nick Fox: Phantasieblume, co-published by AEN and C4RD, 2010
Building on the delicate relationship between fine art and craft, his visual research explores representational and material orthodoxies in painting languages though two symbiotic strands: a physical exploration of the narrative potential of the paint material and the exploration of visual and symbolic codes of romantic desire and explicit eroticism, reflected in historical pictorial systems and personal codes of concealment.
His seductive drawings, mirrored paintings and craft objects reveal an intoxicating blend of graphic sexual imagery and Victorian floriography, creating elusive narratives and unsustainable utopias. Fox’s imaginary landscapes are seductive, luring the viewer ever deeper. Drawing on a vast bank of sources, Fox transforms the found taboo image and context (of photo-reproduction porn or fashion) into one of intimate and emotive experience. Languorous male figures emerge from his sensual and craquelure surfaces while overlaid botanical imagery fuses a symbolic role to his themes of desire, longing and loss. These tantalising idylls and elusive narratives are often rendered in dark or overripe colour that, along with his painting process, create a toxic fog, an Eden after the fall, one where innocence has been banished.
'Nick Fox working in his studio (2012)' Image courtesy of Nick Fox
'Installation view, Hå gamle prestegard, Norway (2011) image courtesy of Nick Fox
' Incubus, 2008, cut acrylic paint and ink.39cm x 39cm, image courtesy of Nick Fox '
Murmuring, 2009 – 2011, Sculpted, cut and polished glass, sheet of acrylic paint, 60 cm x 22 cm Installation view, Vane, Newcastle, 2013, image courtesy of Nick Fox
Harvest, 2010, acrylic and ink on panel, 120cm diameter image courtesy of Colin Davison & C4RD
Harvest, 2010, acrylic and ink on panel, 120cm diameter (detail) (image courtesy of Colin Davison & C4RD
Snare, 2008, cut acrylic paint and ink, shelf 32cm x23cm. image courtesy of Colin Davison & C4RD
Installation view, Phantasieblume Cabinet 2009 – 2011, containing 8 works from the Phantasieblume series 184cm x 94cm, Hå gamle prestegard, Norway (2011)
Installation view, Phantasieblume Cabinet 2009 – 2001, , containing 8 works from the Phantasieblume series , 184cm x 94cm Vane, Newcastle (2010), image courtesy of Nick Fox
Phantasieblume's research explores the interrelations and contradictions between drawing and painting, fine art and craft, investigating the potential significance of deliberately blurring these boundaries.
I Apparition, 2009, cut acrylic paint and ink, 38cm diameter , image courtesy of Nick Fox
This longing, 2008, cut acrylic paint and ink, 25cm diameter', image courtesy of Nick Fox
Utilizing the traditional material of paint, Fox developed innovative ‘cutting’ technique: a labour-intensive process that signifies devotion. This enabled a new exploration of the contemporary currency, symbol and cultural meaning of longing, seduction, desire and romance. Applying layers of ink and acrylic paint directly onto glass, intricately cut, he thus created and exhibited a series of skins of paint, “drawings” and “paintings”, which subvert the traditions and expectations of those mediums.
Reference points include: Neo classical and Vanitas painting, Victorian visual culture, literature, craft, pornography and subcultural codes. Fox draws upon floriography, the secret language of flowers that was a Victorian cultural phenomenon using flowers as tokens to communicate hidden or forbidden pleasures within normative courtship rituals. Fox was also informed by the mechanics of underground courtship rituals where floriographic imagery was employed through a range of Fin de siècle Literature sources (Wilde and Huysman etc) to indicate secrecy, sex, taboo and sexual encounter. The subsequent wide scale and public definition of floral codes exemplified by Kate Greenaway’s 1884 “dictionary” The Language of Flowers, marked the migration of its meaning from the potent to the polite, underground to the normative, the real to the artificial, the sexual to the sentimental.
Dreamcatcher no.5, 2009, cur acrylic paint, 20cm x 17cm image courtesy of Nick Fox
Belladonna, 2010,inlaid and cut acrylic paint and ink,172cm x 78cm, image courtesy of Colin Davison & C4RD
‘Phantasieblume’ was developed as a series of solo presentations at C4RD (London 2009), VANE Gallery (Newcastle 2010) and Hå gamle prestegard (Norway 2011). Dialogues between craft and innovation in contemporary fine art practice were explored through group drawing exhibitions at Fruehsorge Contemporary Drawings (Berlin), The Burton Art Gallery & Museum (Bideford) and Torrence Art Museum (LA).
‘Metatopia’, a work from this series, was awarded a Major Prize in the John Moores Contemporary Painting Prize (2010) and has since become part of the National Museums Collection (2012). It is currently on permanent display at Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool.
Metatopia, 2010, acrylic and ink on panel, 120cm diameter, image courtesy of Colin Davison & C4RD
‘Phantasieblume’ was further contextualized and disseminated in an artist monograph (2010), which featured essays and text contributions by Philip Austander, Stephanie Brown, Paul Stone, Andrew Hewish, George Chakravarthi, Matthew Hearn and Clive Jennings. Funded by Newcastle University and ACE, partnered with the National Glass Centre, Art Editions North and Centre for Recent Drawing as part of the prestigious Documents for Recent Drawing series, the book was distributed internationally by Cornerhouse, Manchester. A second edition of the monograph was also produced in Prussian blue, with a limited signed Artists print (50 copies).
Blue Moon Double Portrait, 2012, cyanotype on Heritage Rag, 185 cm x 265 cm, (image courtesy of Colin Davison]
‘Nightsong’ is a substantive grouping of artworks, events, exhibitions and a publication exploring the personal symbol and cultural meaning of longing, seduction, desire and loss. It includes distinctive glass objects, sculptures, drawings, paintings, video installation and live events. The research explored a range of contemporary modes of practice spanning and blurring fine art and craft.
Nightsong, 2010, acrylic and ink on panel, 120cm diameter (image courtesy of Colin Davison)
Blue Moon Knot, 2012, cyanotype on Heritage Rag, 185 cm x 265 cm, (image courtesy of Colin Davison)
‘Nightsong’ questions the elusive emotional register of sentiment, wisdom and emotional experience through symbol, material and visual art form. Fox’s research is specifically informed by mythologies of romantic idealization, longing and coded articulations of desire. Individual works in ‘Nightsong’ explore the physical and emotional instability, and the bittersweet intensification of longing, that comes as a result of rejection and loss.
Love’s Sigh no.11, 2012, gold dust on carbon paper, 30 cm x 21 cm. images courtesy of Nick Fox
Valency, 2012 , 5 pieces of cut out acrylic paint, 112 cm x 101 cm, dimensions variable, image courtesy of Colin Davison
One of the outcomes of ‘Nightsong’ is The Longing Archive, a collection of physical examples of the languages of social courtship and the ephemera of romance. Two live-art projects analysed and disseminated this subject matter: Write a Love Letter, through which members of the public were invited to submit their own love letters to the archive, building a unique record of contemporary desires, and Longing Disco, a live art event in which participants submitted song choices connected to their own courtship stories, creating a performance exploring the relationships between music, sentiment and longing.
Murmering, 2009-11, 30 sculpted, cut and polished glass objects, pool of cut acrylic paint, dimensions variable. Installation view Vane Gallery Newcastle 2013 and Hå gamle prestegard, Norway (2011) images courtesy of Nick Fox
Boat, 2011, monitor, video loop 1:55 min. image courtesy of Colin Davison & AEN
Nightsong, Installation view, Vane, Newcastle 2013. image courtesy of Colin Davison & AEN
The research also culminated in a series of objects influenced by diverse sources including 7th Century stained glass, Neoclassical painting, Fin de Siècle literature, decorative glass, floriographic imagery and lunar mythologies. Through original, labour-intensive methodologies, the research developed and extended Fox’s ongoing exploration of the tradition of devotion to labour as an enduring token of sentiment. Compared to Fox’s earlier research (notably in Phantasieblume), ‘Nightsong’ “seeks out a more direct index between raw sentiment and its visual articulation” (Matthew Hearn in his critical text, commissioned by Hå gamle prestegard to accompany the exhibition ‘Phantasieblume Nachtlied’)
A limited edition, spoken word vinyl contains a sequential listing of all the 118 songs submitted for The Longing Disco held on the 1st February 2013 at Vane, Newcastle. Each song choice is followed by contributors’ personal stories of longing, either recorded by the contributors themselves or, in the case of written submissions, anonymously narrated. For more information on the Longing Disco, or to listen to the submitted stories, please visit: http://www.nickfoxart.com/The_Longing_Disco/The_Longing_Disco.html
Echo, 2011, 30 Glass discs, enamel, gold, talcum powder, microphone, 1.5 s. audio delay, Individual pieces 56 cm to 10 cm, Dimensions variable, images courtesy of Nick Fox
Refrain (Longing for you) 2012, vinyl record, repeat playing record deck, 5min 12s image courtesy of Colin Davison
Nightsong, Installation view, Vane, Newcastle 2013' image courtesy of Colin Davison
‘Nightsong: Nick Fox’ was published by Art Editions North in 2013, with essays by Michael Petry and Matthew Hearn, plus an interview with Grainne Sweeney and Nick Fox.
The Holy Island of Lindisfarne Northumberland, 2009,(White Moon)2011, Installation view, Vane, Newcastle 2013 image courtesy of Colin Davison
Blue Moon Knot 2012cyanotype on Heritage Rag185 cm x265 cm. (image courtesy of Colin Davison)
Come Undone 2011, cut out acrylic paint with ink, 94 cm x 94 cm (detail) (2012)'
credit reading: Murmuring, 2009-11, sculpted, cut and polished glass, 132 cm x40 cm
Love’s Sigh no.4, no6, 2012, gold dust on carbon paper, 30 cm x 21 cm. images courtesy of Nick Fox '
Love’s Sigh series, Installation view, Vane, Newcastle 2013 image courtesy of Colin Davison
Exhibited at VANE, Newcastle (2012-13) and at Hå gamle prestegard, Stavanger, Norway (2011), as well as in numerous group exhibitions, the research was funded through a National Glass Centre Sunderland residency (2009-2010), Arts Council England and Newcastle University.
The Longing Disco 2013, documentation image, Vane, Newcastle, 2013. images courtesy of Nick Fox '
The Longing Disco limited edition Vinyl record, 2013. image courtesy of Nick Fox '
Fox is currently extending his research established in ‘Nightsong’, working on a series of delicate drawings of the body based on ‘Echo’.
Fox’s recent sabbatical from teaching facilitated a period of study at Kupferstichkabinett AKA Staatliche Museem in Berlin. This new research project provisionally titled ‘Redefining Narrative’, involves researching 84 of Botticelli’s cycle of Divine Comedy drawings made to illustrate Dante’s Inferno. Fox’s future aim is to begin the production of a series of new works for exhibition that explores simultaneous narrative, in particular the parallels between historical and contemporary modes of practice.
To find out more about Fox’s practice, visit:
For more information about Phantasieblume and Nightsong, visit:
The following publications are also available:
Nightsong: Nick Fox (2013) Edited by Matthew Hearn. Published by Art Editions North ISBN 978196832070
2011 Print Awards (2011) International Print Biannale 2011 [Exhibition Catalogue] ISBN 978-0-9555846-5-7
Nick Fox: Phantasieblume (2010) Edited by Andrew Hewish Published by Centre for Recent Drawing (C4RD) and Art Editions North ISBN 9781907226045