The Musee Picasso in its opening summary of its exhibition catalogue, describes Picasso as having ‘Early-flowering genius, an exceptionally long life span, relentless work extending over the best part of a century and the un-wearying creative activity that never flagged (Bozo 1985, p.8). It is not difficult with an introduction like this to understand the influence that Pablo Picasso has had on contemporary art world. Sue Webster, an artist herself holding an honorary Doctorate in Art from Nottingham Trent University, first discovered the work of a contemporary artist called Danny Fox in a bedsit workspace in Kentish town, London. Describing her first encounter of Danny’s work she said
‘The pale tones of their veal-like skin that rarely ever saw the light of day brought me to Picasso once more and reminded me of a breakthrough painting of his just before he went on develop his cubist ideas, ‘Les Demoiselles d’Avignon’ (http://www.white-cake.com/about.html, 20/04/2015)
Sue, in her description of ‘pale tones of skin’ was referring to a painting that was exhibited at the Castlefield Gallery in Manchester called ‘White girls sleep standing up’ for the exhibition, ‘30 Years of the Future’ where Danny Fox was nominated by Sue Webster as an artist to pay particular attention to, as an up and coming talent. In this essay, I will examine, if any, the impact that Picasso has had on Danny Fox’s art by examining works by both Artists to highlight influences on Danny’s practice through Picasso’s work.
Picasso was educated in art from a young age and the portrait paintings that he produced at the age of the fourteen, clearly show the genius that he possessed in his early Teens. Danny, in comparison, is an autodidact having no formal training in the arts. Edward Lucie-Smith states ‘He (Danny) is opposed to the title of ‘Self-taught’ artist, preferring his art to be a case of ‘going for it’ (http://cocknbullgallery.co.uk/portfolio/danny-fox-painting, 20/04/2015). Picasso could be described as ‘going for it’ when he ventured into Cubism or Surrealism due to having no formal education in the movements, making both artists in similar situations at the start of their respective career’s working on their respective art. What Danny does possess in his early career, however, is ‘the sophisticated awareness he shows to the strategies and triumphs of early modern art and in particular to the paintings of Picasso and Matisse, made earlier in their respective careers’ (http://thelondonmagazine.org/tlm-blog/back-to-painting-danny-fox-by-edward-lucie-smith, 20/04/2015)
When Picasso first moved to Paris, his Blue period concerned itself with sentimentalism and Literary aesthetic, he had experienced death and hunger ‘The blue tonality expresses the moral and physical wretchedness of a human race doomed to be victims’ (Bozo 1985, p.19) The Rose period transformed his aesthetic out of the blue’s and into the earthy tones of the Catalan land with tonal colours of ochre, rose and greys with the subject matter changing from images of woe and solitude to beauty and peace, changed through the experience of passion with a young woman and the Spanish landscape. Picasso painted experience and feelings through living them. Danny shares with Picasso the same initial inspiration through experience that goes into his paintings ‘I couldn’t have made any of these paintings before the time I made them because I hadn’t lived the story yet’ (http://www.white-cake.com/saatchi.html, 20/04/2015)
It is the early career of Picasso where the similarities start to emerge between himself and Fox. The Rose period and the period around Les Demoiselles d’Avignon is where the similarities emerge, particularly in Picasso’s many studies of the subjects before the final piece. When one studies Pablo’s paintings after his initial visits to the Louvre, after the discovery of the Iberian sculptures, We start to see his fascination emerge with Primitivism. The colours and techniques used, the thick and bold strokes of the paint brush, the exaggerated features of the chin and eyes start to become more marked. An example of this technique and development is found in ‘Head and Shoulders of a woman or sailor’ 1907. I find a striking resemblance to the construction of Picasso’s painting to that of a head and shoulders portrait painted by Danny.
Head and Shoulders of a woman, Picasso, 1907 Portrait, Danny Fox, 2013
The two paintings hold strong visual connections. The strong brush work, the heavily outlined eyes, the disregard for proportion and the empty look in their eyes. The use of greys and blacks with strong markings across the face, all add to a similar artistic style by both artists.
Although Danny has not gone as far in his work, to date, as Picasso in his fascination with Primitivism and women, another striking painting by Fox shows a contemporary take on Picasso’s ‘Les Demoiselles d’Avignon’. Regardless of the intention by Fox to consciously take an influence from Picasso in White girls sleep standing up, the subject matter, the use of tones with regards the greys and muted pinks, the formation and curvature of the woman all add to a similar nature in the work, albeit a contemporary take by Danny to hold a connection to Les Demoiselles.
Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, Picasso, 1907. White girls sleep standing up, Danny Fox, 2014.
The girls of Picasso and Fox, when side by side all show a certain confidence in their nature to meet the male gaze. The posture of the girls, with their arms behind their heads and breasts exposed, squatted position with their ‘sex’ showing in Danny’s painting, whilst alluded to in Picasso’s, makes us think of those great paintings by Ingres and Manet, of Harems and Olympia. Berger states of Les Demoiselles that ‘It was a raging, frontal attack, not against sexual immorality but against life as Picasso found it, the waste, the disease, the ugliness and the ruthlessness of it’ (Berger 1965, p.72) Both paintings share the same topic, women selling sex. Picasso painted the ladies from a Brothel in Barcelona he was familiar with and Danny a strip club in Shoreditch, the White Horse. Could one argue that Danny shares Picasso’s views on the subject matter, the waste, the ruthlessness of it? I would argue so because given that the pot of coins to the right of the girls of the girls in ‘white girls sleep standing up’ shows the ruthlessness of the business that the girls occupy and the title of the painting suggests that the girls sleep whilst working as a form of self-defence from the ugliness of it all. Sue Webster describes Danny’s ‘Les Demoiselles’ as
‘painted some 107 years later is more fucked up in a way only typical of a truly British artist – It’s executed in a rather cheap and nasty fashion – tits out for a night out, legs spread in skinny Primark blur jeans, the obligatory bounty pint glass of coins – a dancers dominance over any man that dares to walk through the bar without dropping a pound in for a look, teetering on a nearby table replaces the display of fruit in Picasso’s original’ (http://www.white-cake.com/about.html, 20/04/2015)
With the Advent of cheap air fares and the ability to be able to travel further for cheaper than ever before, this has given a new generation the opportunity to experience different cultures and people. This has happened in Danny’s case and these influences can be seen in his art work, not unlike Picasso, who was fascinated by his discovery of the Iberian statuary and Primitive African masks that he had encountered in the Louvre, which influenced his work during the Les Demoiselles d’Avignon period. Similarly, Danny’s experiences are put onto canvas with reference to Thailand, France and America in paintings with subject matters relating to, Lady boys in Thailand, American Cattle Ranches in California and Burgers, Spanish Conquistadores of 16th century Spain who have been Darted in the hands. The influences he has taken he has used as subject matter.
Thai Lady Boy 2014, Danny Fox. Juan De Ponce De Leon 2013, Danny Fox
American series of Paintings Danny Fox
To highlight the influence Picasso has had on Danny, I have highlighted their shared interest in Ceramics. Picasso towards the end of the 1940’s turned to ceramics as another medium with which to express his artistic personality. He was as enthusiastic about this discipline of art as any of the other disciplines he had discovered over the course of his career. ‘Picasso, however, resurrected the ancient tradition of the all-round artist who explored the whole range of paintings, sculpture, graphic art, engraving and ceramics’ (Bozo 1985, p.201) Through the course of Danny’s practice, he has also decided to experiment with Ceramics and Ceramic Design as another medium with which to experiment with. It is evident to see through both Artists practice that the decision to enter into Ceramics is for another medium with which to work on. Both Artists artistic styles are evident through their ceramics.
Pablo Picasso Ceramic. Danny Fox Ceramic
Berger states that ‘It was Picasso’s reputation amongst his friends and fellow painters which first brought his attention to the dealer’s’ (Berger 1965, p.5) and indeed in this respect Danny Fox is doing much the same with regards his artistic friends such as Sue Webster who stated ‘There was simply no more room to breathe and I felt a duty to exhume these unfamiliar masterpieces before the painter suffocated and died, another undiscovered artist suffocated by the toxicity of his own genius’ (http://www.white-cake.com/about.html, 20/04/2015) and journalistic reviews from The London Magazine with article titles such as ‘Genuine cultural seriousness with a degree of mischievous sleaze’ (http://thelondonmagazine.org/tlm-blog/back-to-painting-danny-fox-by-edward-lucie-smith) But one thing that sets Danny Fox apart from Picasso in his day is the advent of social Media in the digital age.
The Tate website has a feature on Danny Fox called ‘The art of Instagram: Danny Fox’ and it investigates how Instagram has shaped his practice. ‘The platform allows an immediate and direct channel of communication with his audience, who can see him at work in his studio, or a painting minutes after its completion’ (http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/articles/art-of-instagram-danny-fox, 20/04/2015). Of his shows that have been promoted through Instagram, he has had packed out exhibitions in London, Paris and Moscow and Danny sees this as partly to do with self -promotion on Social Media.
Through the many works that I have highlighted to show the influence that Picasso has had on Danny Fox, I hope to have demonstrated that while Danny has been influenced by Picasso in works such as Head and Shoulders of a woman (1907) and Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907) Danny’s own particular style has always been distinctive and his own. I have highlighted areas of art practice that they share with regards ceramics and demonstrated their connection through their own artistic style, the similarities that they share. The early career of Picasso is one that was so different to the style of surrealism with the contorted faces and bodies and strong colours and thick lines that it highlights the changes that an artist can take in the course of an arts career. Danny Fox has started to use paint mediums that were unavailable to Picasso during his career and like Picasso, we can see an artist change in style. Danny is just starting out in his career as an artist. He is interested in many area’s in order to develop his practice and uses his experiences, like Picasso, through living them, to enable them to influence his work. Through collaborations with Tattoo artists and film makers, through new artistic art materials such as spray paints and his fascination with graffiti art, we can start to see an artist who is just at the start of his career. Sue Webster was right in nominating him as a new talent to watch out for.