Alexander Berggruen is pleased to present Danny Fox: The Sweet and Burning Hills. This exhibition ran by appointment only at the gallery, 1018 Madison Avenue, Floor 3, New York, NY, 10075.
Danny Fox’s new paintings capture the conflicting spirit of the Hollywood Hills through boldly-rendered expressive portraiture, mystical elements, and allusions to smoke and fire. Fox blends domestic imagery with influences from his natural surroundings to create eerily striking articulations of the human psyche. In the show’s namesake 2019 painting The Sweet and Burning Hills, a figure lets a mask hang below her chin to reveal her face, seemingly indifferent to the fire-teeming background. The ghost-like transparent outline of her body suggests her transience within the burning environment, or perhaps she exists as a distant memory. As the figure is impermanent and atemporal, so too is the landscape immortalized in painting while burning to ash.
In Fox’s own words:
Moving from Downtown LA to the secluded and leafy hills of Hollywood I embarked on a new era and a new set of paintings and drawings. I changed my focus from the backdrop of the colorful city and more to the subject, but the sitters weren’t just sitting around on the street corners anymore, I had to find them and invite them into the studio. I asked myself, who lives in these Hills of floating houses and empty swimming pools? I found them floating themselves, down the isles of Gelson’s supermarket where an apple will cost you an arm. Stoned eye whites pink behind large black sunglasses at noon. Iced coffees rattle in the cup holders of SUVs. Whiling away the days in states of infatuation and welcoming the evening like a missed friend.
I have always used photographs as source material for figurative painting. In recent years the iPhone has been a well used tool, but I’ve always liked to look back to early Parisian studio photography, predominantly from the late 1800s. The erotic photographers of their day referenced classical paintings for the model poses, then the painters working at this time would buy these images in the form of early pornographic postcards and use them as painting and drawing reference, completing a feedback loop of visual reference. I decided that I wanted to create my own source material inspired by these images, so I worked with long time collaborator Kingsley Ifill on a book called Eye For A Sty, Tooth For The Roof. The book encapsulates the winter of 2019 in Beachwood Canyon. The paintings in this show derive from those images, figuratively speaking. However, once the figure is set, the painting then begins. You have to paint how it feels to live through it, the dry sting of wildfire smoke in your throat. Perfume in the bathroom. Oil dripping onto the dusty driveway, fruit bowls and ashtrays, coyotes and rattlesnakes. Looking back at these paintings now I’m struck at how simple they are. There are very little objects or furniture, just light passing through the trees onto the faces I now can’t forget.
The sweet and burning hills of Fox’s paintings and the complex characters within them are preserved in the artist’s broad brushstrokes. Many of the artist’s models lounge in poses reminiscent of canonical Renaissance odalisques. In Fox’s 2020 Tali and the Dragon, the brunette subject lies on her stomach next to a red ash tray, resting her head on her arms and looking over her shoulder with bloodshot eyes. Behind her, the wallpaper is scored with trees and a purple dragon. The dragon extends its wing off the wall to stroke the model’s hair as it breathes fire onto her, smoke lingering.
This exhibition marks Danny Fox’s first solo show with Alexander Berggruen, following his inclusion in the gallery’s group shows Animal Kingdom (June 26-August 29, 2020) and Words (October 11–November 26, 2019).
The exhibition preview for Danny Fox: The Sweet and Burning Hills is available upon request. For all inquiries and to schedule an appointment, please contact us at: email@example.com.
Danny Fox (b. 1986, St. Ives of Cornwall, England) has exhibited internationally at Jeffrey Deitch, Los Angeles, CA; Berggruen Gallery, San Francisco, CA; The Saatchi Gallery, London, UK; Zidoun-Bossuyt Gallery, Luxembourg; and V1 Gallery, Copenhagen, Denmark, among others. Fox lives and works in St. Ives of Cornwall, England.
Fox’s canvases use a vibrant array of colors that are tempered, or appear worn down, evoking the shadowy natures of their subjects. A skillful tightrope walker, Fox operates as both observer and participant: on a cellular level, the canvases convey that the artist is deeply intimate with the kind of life, always lived outside the ordinary, that he depicts. At same time, the structures of Fox’s compositions indicate an understanding of the painters and paintings that have come before him. The resulting work exudes a visceral synergy.
Fox’s show at Alexander Berggruen consists of paintings that echo those photos and drawings—an oozing array of opulent canvases organized around solo figures. Mostly female, the characters smoke, they straddle stuffed animals, they clasp their knees in seductive disdain, they eye us with casual contempt, they sprawl out across the floor or invite us to follow them deeper into the canyon.
Taking in the new body of work he’s amassed, I mention to Fox that it feels not unlike a great album, where the work conveys a single moment but also evokes an entire journey. “I always think of shows as albums,” says Fox. “I use that to help encapsulate certain moments and not worry if it’s off brand. I even sometimes think, Ah, shit, I’m making a bad album here. But I also like that feeling—like it’s going to be the ’80s Dylan album that you one day understand.”
We are pleased to share with you a new essay, “Danny Fox: Feedback Loop of Visual Reference,” written by Kirsten Cave. This essay explores Fox’s collaboration with photographer Kingsley Ifill, the basis for the paintings included in Danny Fox: The Sweet and Burning Hills (Alexander Berggruen, New York, January 12-February 26, 2021).
From the first group of related photographs and drawings in the 19th century to early pornographic postcards to contemporary pop culture, Fox’s new body of work exists in conversation with the rich history of photography’s influence on drawing and painting.