With idiosyncratic paintings that juggle references ranging from Matisse to Modelo Especiál, the painter Danny Fox’s body of work is as tangled as it is impressive. His canvases are, at first look, primal compositions that include Paleolithic-seeming renderings of boxers, equestrians, and baseball players. There’s a poky mayhem to Fox’s earthen scenes that gives his work a vague sense of place (maybe his adopted home of Los Angeles), but certainly not of time. Skid-row apparitions and women waiting in Planned Parenthood lobbies pop up alongside regal Cubans in striped smoking suits as well as crystal-meth dealers; a panicked masculinity binds each of Fox’s acrylic-and–oil pen compositions together. In 2014’s Love Is As Certain As Death, a man sits atop a spent horse, both of them moving resignedly towards the oblivion of an open plain. Fox melds and plays with the inputs of existential horror and masculine archetypes so naturally that he’s become an outsider “It” boy for it—and the rare artist who earns styled editorials in GQ. Over the last two years, Fox has had five international solo shows, as well as a spot in the “Iconoclasts” group exhibition at London’s Saatchi Gallery in 2016.
This month, over 200 of Fox’s paintings have been gathered in a new book titled A Cut Above The Eye, published by Copenhagen’s V1 Gallery. The volume features an opening rant by his friend and fellow painter Henry Taylor (for whom Fox has sat) along with a clipped Q&A with the British painter Rose Wylie. Fox did not want to talk on the phone for an interview on the occasion of the book, nor did he seem to want to talk about the book, so instead we texted as he ate Cheerios on his bed and drove to his bodega on Sunset Boulevard.
10/10/18 (11:20 AM)
DANNY FOX: Danny Fox here, how do you do?
MICHAEL MCGREGOR: Good morning. How goes it in LA?
FOX: Is this the interview?
MCGREGOR: It is.
FOX: I mean that question. Let me know when we’re on the record!
MCGREGOR: I spent the evening combing through A Cut Above The Eye. I woke up still thinking about you and Rose Wylie’s discussion of “silly” as it pertains to work. It made me wonder, What do you find silly? And how would you define it? Stupid? Playful? Some mix? Something else entirely?
FOX: Yeah that was Rose’s idea. I find it all silly if we are talking art. There is this strange thing with painting where some days it feels really important, and when you hit a good one it feels like you are in direct contact with the gods and in conversation with the great dead painters that have gone before you. But then some days it feels very silly and like a waste of one’s life.
10/11/18 (12:08 AM)
MCGREGOR: Is there anything you’ve been listening to or watching or reading or examining that’s tickled your fancy?
FOX: No to be honest. Wish I could say there was. All music seems to be a memory of some other time—good memories or bad ones and I haven’t got internet at my place at the moment. I’m living back in the studio, so I can’t watch anything. Some nights i’ll go to the cinema, but mostly it’s shite. I saw White Boy Rick the other night. Worth a watch I’d say but not amazing. I’m not a great reader. I have my faithful books that I read over and over but that’s about it. Never know where to find new favorites.
FOX: Actually, I recently stumbled on an Elvis song that I’ve been playing a lot, “That Someone You Never Forget.” Never really got into the King before, but this one fucked me up.
MCGREGOR: Being without internet at the moment and not enjoying or partaking in contemporary “entertainment” culture, what’s it like to operate outside of the present moment?
FOX: The present moment is the thing happening now outside the window isn’t it? It feels more like by not having internet I’m only prevented from escaping the present moment. And just to be clear, it’s not a choice really I would like to have the internet there’s just a problem with getting it connected in the studio!
MCGREGOR: Does living in your studio have any effect in work that you’ve seen?
FOX: I prefer to live at the studio. Some people swear by a 9-5 routine and you hear a lot of people say the action of “going to work” is good, but not for me. I like to be here even when I’m not here. Like right now, for example, I’m laying on my bed eating a bowl of Cheerios. Ain’t bothered getting dressed, but already looking at this painting I made last night seeing things I need to change. It suits me better.
MCGREGOR: Do you have any kind of studio / life balance then? Or is it Cheerios & Modelo always?
FOX: I don’t have a routine really. I just try to do what I feel like doing when I feel like doing it, which is strange. Once you give yourself that freedom, you realize that you’re likely to choose to do nothing. I imagined before I made any money that if I ever did make any money I would be doing all these mad things all the time. But now it’s come down to it, I’m just stuck with the painting. It’s a dirty dirty deal. That said, I have started going for a drive in the evening, once the LA traffic has died down. I just drive down sunset and listen to the radio. I will tell myself I need toothpaste or something and drive somewhere to get it. I like seeing all the signs lit up at night on Broadway too. It’s something a country boy can never get used to. I can imagine this interview is going to be of any interest to anyone.
FOX: * I can’t imagine this interview is going to be of any interest to anyone
10/12/18 (6:52 PM)
MCGREGOR: Curious what your bodega habits are. Where you go? What you see? Who you chat with? I sent you $12.34 on Venmo to do just that.
FOX: Sorry mate, don’t quite follow? You sent me money?
MCGREGOR: SCREENSHOT OF VENMO TRANSACTION
FOX: Right…I gotta stop at the store. I’ll let you know what happens.
10/13/2018 (11:41 AM)
FOX: The journalist sent me some money, $12.34 to be exact. It was sent in a way I didn’t fully understand, digitally using a money app, nor did I really understand the mission. He wanted me to go to a bodega and spend the money, then report to him with the outcome. I didn’t know whether this was a charitable donation or some kind of psychological analysis. At the time of this benign request, I was driving through a lightning storm in Los Angeles. Elvis Presley played on the small portable stereo on the dashboard. I turned him down to better hear the thunder that seemed to shaking the whole city. The rain fell so hard that a decade of desert dust slipped from the windscreen in front of me. The side window was half rolled down, allowing a tropical punch of gasoline and wet asphalt to float in on the warm October air. I couldn’t see much. The lines of the road were invisible. I used the neon signs to guide me to a strip mall off Sunset Boulevard. I parked in the lot and sat for a while listening to the truck cool down. I was in no rush. The rain seemed to ease. I thought about the 12 bucks, still not understanding the situation. I reasoned with myself—I could by some milk. I could buy a cigar. I could buy a cup of coffee. I could buy a lottery ticket or some sunglasses. I thought about the McConnell twins, the most beautiful bodega workers to ever exist. They both worked the bodega on the corner of Main and 6th before it shut down a year ago. They were exactly identical: half black, half Irish, maybe 18-years-old. I could never tell which one was which except one liked me and one didn’t. It was the one that read the Bible behind the counter that was kind. She called me “red coat.” She would would say, “Hey, Mr. Red Coat how’s that painting coming along? You know you shouldn’t drink this sparkling water it’s bad for your guts!” Sometimes you can take a kindness like that for granted, nights like these they come back to visit you.
MCGREGOR: Do you ever get sick of people asking you about horses?