Nick Fox, clockwise from upper left:
This longing, 2008; Harvest, 2010, Let Slip a Look, 2011, Phantasieblume Cabinet containing Belladonna, 2010, Installation view at Vane Gallery, 2010, Echo, 2011. Courtesy of the artist.
By Matt Hearne
Nick Fox assembles an urbane blend of intricate drawings and labouriously crafted painterly surfaces in the construction of Objets d’art. That these are not simply studies or works on paper is fundamental. Fox creates objects to be lusted over, to be fetishized. Whether with pen and ink, paintbrush or scalpel, Fox is constructing a refined aesthetic that we as viewers can desire if never wholly comprehend or attain. For, through the act of drawing Fox is revealing, but also concealing.
Fox’s Phantasieblume series explores the veiled communiqué of Victorian Floriography: its particular clandestine language for giving and receiving flowers. Re-imagining this vocabulary, Fox employs a version of this coded expression to evoke his own private courtship with the intractable themes of longing and loss. Taken out of context, the intended meaning of a depicted lily, carnation or rose is unclear. Scenes of flesh and ambiguous sexual liaisons also veil implications or happenings unknown. The seeming innocence of these floral communiqué, married with images of unabated lust and illicit acts of desire make for an elusive narrative: a sense of ambiguity further heightened by the seductive surface upon which these images are set.
Initially exploring these ideas within the domestic décollage of the proto-doilies [This Longing, 2008], in more recent works Fox has begun to deconstruct the expected (mass-produced and therefore) regimented uniformity of these forms. Where earlier works are anchored around the juxtaposition of unexpected imagery with the doilies’ symbolism as an emblem of prim and properness, Fox’s most recent works push the formal qualities of these decorative settings. In Come Undone (2011), Fox has relinquished the regimented form of the lacework, redrawing it as a disarray of intricate tendrils tipped with erotic charge. Belladona (2010) further pushes the innate sexuality of the work. The skin coloured blanket of the paint is an intricately crafted simulation of the threadbare weave of a bed sheet – Fox’s tainted bedware. Decorated with drawings of Fox’s own body (as opposed to porn-drawn similes), a vocabulary of puckered lips, palms of hands, soles of feet and nipples transform the painted skin into a form of biographical shroud.
Again tending to the physically autobiographical, is Echo (2011), a new glass work in which 29 circular glass discs strewn across the floor form a reflection of the artists body. These pallid studies reflect an intimate process of self-examination and the individual drawings constrained within each disc focus both Fox’s, and our own voyeuristic gaze on the disparate, isolated body parts. As individual components, they manipulate the scale and proportion of particular features heightening their allure: a magnified and pursed pair of lips, a distended naval. They represent a language of intimacy, the sensuality of the small of the back or the nape of the neck. The drawings themselves also posses a slightness – not so much a measure of meekness – but a sensitivity to the inaudible echoes and charges of desire. Their incarceration in glass only intensifies this essence, making these emotions incarnate: they become like love letters, echoes of past longing.
Matthew Hearn is a part-time lecturer at Newcastle University. He writes and curates as part of a collaborative artistic practice.