British artist Alex Foxton explores ideas of masculinity and complex identities in his vibrant impressive large-scale paintings, inspired by controversial historical figures. His colourful portraits are instantly recognisable and highly desirable. Shapes are used by the artist to define manhood and to examine the representation of the body.
Represented by Galerie Derouillon, Alex is in demand, preparing new works for future exhibitions. He recently completed a series of works with Alistair Mackie for Another Magazine among other projects such as working on a few books. He also ventured into sculpture with works featuring fragmented, rudimentary blocks assembled to conjure drama and intrigue, in similar fashion as his remarkable paintings.
Foxton talks to Art is Alive, from his Paris studio, about finding inspiration in dark personalities, the pictorial tension in his paintings and his favourite artists. Alex’s exhibition at Galerie Derouillon runs from 16 – 30 January 2021.
I am really interested in your technique to achieve such strong works. How do you start your paintings: do you begin immediately with the subject matter, the content, or rather explore the colours and ‘shapes’ first? And do you draw beforehand?
I usually start with the subject, although that’s often linked to how I feel I want to develop the work. For example with the last show I started with the figure of the devil, in order to break out of habitual gestures and line. And that led to other subjects. I draw a lot, I’ve always drawn as a way of thinking. They aren’t always polished drawings, or even presentable. They are ways of figuring out bits of the paintings.
Your paintings are rooted in History through figures like Napoleon, Kings, Queens and War-time heroes, would you say that this is accurate and are there any other historical figures you’ll be exploring in the future?
Yes, I can get really excited about historical figures, especially those we know as references but not as real people. I like to imagine what they were thinking in an official portrait, or what they dreamed about.
Nelson, for example, is a huge hero in England and he’s immortalised on top of a column in Trafalgar Square, but it’s hard to imagine what he was like in private life. In a way it’s the lack of information that inspires me, the difference between the official portrait in military regalia and his dreams and desires. He suffered from sea-sickness, but he was also a naval hero. That’s a small fact but it excites me, it’s like a way into him.
There are a couple of historical figures I’m looking at now, one very well-known and the other quite obscure…
Your work seems to touch on the male figure as well, what is so fascinating in men? Is sexuality and desire burning in your paintings?
I hope so. I don’t often take desire as a subject, but I do think it permeates everything I do (and possibly everything everyone ever does). That gets awkward when I’m starting with a picture of Stalin or a serial killer, though it does help create tension. I think being a man, and desiring other men, also makes a useful tension. But honestly the question of why I paint men is still one I don’t feel able to answer completely.
You’ve worked for very significant fashion maisons, Dior, Vuitton, Margiela, how does this experience inform your paintings today?
It means I’m comfortable with deadlines.
Your definition of ‘ an artist’?
Someone who is comfortable with being alone, or rather cultivates aloneness in order to make work.
Your favourite artists, dead or alive?
The ones that I think about the most are Soutine, Picasso, Philip Guston and Velázquez. I just saw the Kai Althoff show at the Whitechapel which I thought was phenomenal.
Other cultural figures you would want to say have influenced your work?
I listen to a lot of music while I work so that probably influences me subliminally. Leonard Cohen, Kate Bush, and a lot of movie soundtracks like Wojciech Kilar’s score for Dracula.
Recent book you read and loved?
I’m in the middle of John Giorno’s memoir, Great Demon Kings, which is brilliant.
You seem to attract a lot of institutional interest at the moment which is amazing for your career. What’s your personal dream project though: museum exhibitions or else?
I try not to fantasise too much about that. My ambition is to surprise myself.
Would you ever explore other media such as sculpture for example?
I made plaster sculptures earlier this year for the exhibition, carving blocks into figurative shapes. I loved doing it and I hope to continue soon. Also I have a project (called ‘Slob’) with my boyfriend, which takes the form of garments, photos, and film.
Will we see an exhibition of your work in London and / or Europe soon?
I have three projects coming up very soon, they’re all in Paris.
Thank you so much Alex and the staff at Galerie Derouillon.
Portrait of Alex Foxton by Seán McGirr.
Photo by Grégory Copitet, Courtesy of the artist & Galerie Derouillon, Paris.