Sin City Meets Pop Culture - Katherine Stewart talks to Dean Fox

Dean Fox is a traditional and neon artist from Essex. After studying fine art and illustration at the prestigious academy of art Central St Martins, he started his career as a junior at a top London based agency producing visuals, storyboards and illustrations for a wide range of commercial clients. After working for many years in this field Dean decided to return to his first passion of oil painting and fine art.

Untitled - Oil 

There's something rather Sin City meets pop culture about your art. How do you go about picking your subjects?

Haha, I’ve never heard it described like that before. Thoughts are images before the mind interprets them . Something will come to me and if I enjoy the idea I will work on drafts trying to interpret my mind's eye ( which rarely meets up to my inner vision) when I am satisfied with the composition and the subjectivity of the piece, then I will move forward to the final painting .

You mention that your art doesn't aim to voice a social and political standpoint but rather focuses on the 'beauty of life' and its positivity. However at first glance there's something rough and dark about your paintings, how does this fit into your conception of beauty? 

Everything in our experience of life is a duality and rather than thinking of these dualities as separate or opposing we need to understand them as complementaries. We need to experience dark to understand light and so on. Too many artists use their minds for creating and the result is often a reflection of the world and states of affairs. It is far easier to touch on and portray political and social issues within art. However we are constantly reminded through the news and social media of negativity and what is wrong with the world, wars, poverty and disease! We are bombarded with this 24/7 and what changes have occurred from this!? Without balance we start to conceive what we are perceiving. I aim to touch on our inner world with my art, a difficult task as it is pure subjectivity but I enjoy that challenge. The darkness in the works sets the contrast and emphasises the neon that is a metaphor for spiritual light within the current pieces I have been working on.  It shows us the presence of this "light" even within the darkest of times, thoughts and feelings. 

So would you say that you are indifferent to the problems that we face in the world? And therefore believe that your art stands outside of these problems because it doesn't engage with them directly?

No I am not saying I am indifferent to the problems in the world. When we see injustice or killing how can we not be effected or angered by it. However an unhealthy balance of negativity and our attention constantly residing on these issues perpetuates it's reality in us and is not healthy. I have simply just made a choice to make art that reflects on our inert nature with the neon works instead of representing our outer nature of the world and mind. The neon works are just a pointing or reminder to that in us that is always present and free from conflict. We have to remember our position as consciousness if we want to see less of these problems and I just like to remind people of this with my work as best I can. 

I’d just like to talk more generally about your work for a moment before asking about your postcard. I wondered whether you might have a passion for music or maybe club culture, as I feel like your use of ´chiaroscuro' - often grey tones set off by florescent lighting - is recalling of this. You also often paint musicians or singers. Is there something in this? 

I love music and play the guitar, drums and bass as often as I can, which is rather difficult now I have a little baby boy almost running around! I don't really have a passion for club culture, well not anymore and no the work isn't really derived from anything like that. I found those days to be more based in desire and the work I create now is very different. 

Your postcard actually differs from your greyscale works slightly in that you use a pastel warm skin tone for your subject. Are you moving towards using more colour in your works?

I have done all sorts of colour compositions and address each piece individually as to what is needed to portray it as best as I can. I like it to be as spontaneous as possible and don't have a set way of producing work. Doing the same thing over and over because it may have worked once, normally takes away from the freshness of the initial idea. I see this so often in art and it doesn't leave people in excitement for what is coming next. I also hate predictability and want to keep the people who enjoy what I do guessing as to what I may produce next. I enjoy working with a limited pallet and earth tones in my works as this helps create a raw feel within what I do. Great artists such as Zorn and Sargent also would use as few colours as possible to mix a variety and being inspired by these painters I feel drawn to using a limited pallet very naturally. 

The female subject in the painting you made for the lottery seems at once intimately close and infinitely distant, maybe it has something to do with the juxtaposition of her proximity to the viewer and her defacement. Why did you choose to do this? Is there no meaning behind the brushstrokes that cover her face?

No there is no meaning behind what I did. It's purely a feeling process. Had I have done the postcard the following day something different may have come out. Happy mistakes and spontaneous decisions are always more pleasant as an end result and less contrived. I sometimes like work to be a feeling process as with intention before I set out, I am usually disappointed with the end result. I like to sometimes surprise myself and creating something unplanned can never bring disappointment. 

Have you ever encountered someone saying figurative painting as an art form is dead? I catch that a lot recently. What do you say to them?

Yes contemporary mind sets result in contemporary art. I wouldn't say it's dead , just feel it is being adapted to the modern market. I strongly believe we are moving away from art we physically don't relate to and find hard to understand and are moving back into the body. When traditional skill sets and understanding of anatomy meets contemporary approaches, the result can be stunning. I do feel the market, the way it's been has allowed a lot of people to be able to call themselves an artist. This is fine because art is the most subjective thing in the world, but my feeling is that people when eating out have the best experience when they are given something they can't achieve at home. The same with art! Going to a gallery and viewing works that wow you and take you away in there subjects and display of skills is a far better experience for me anyway. I suppose then I am a traditionalist at heart. I like how figurative works tell a story and its immediate relation to the viewer. It is for me the highest form of understanding within your skill sets. Good figurative work or portraiture is harder than most other forms of art.  I just try to adapt these traditional elements and also be current with them.

Finally, what were your reasons for getting involved with Art on a Postcard and has it been challenging, enjoyable or fun? 

Time and love are the most precious thing we can offer to someone so I wanted to use my art and time for this cause to give something back. It was challenging suddenly working so small as all my paintings of recent have been rather large works.  It's been really enjoyable though and look forward to next time helping out again. 

Dean's postcard sized artwork can be won with our UlimART Golden Ticket with CultureLabel. Get your ticket HERE!

About the writer
Katherine is 22 year old writer based in London. She graduated from the Courtauld Institute of Art and is an advocate for anything made or done by women. If she’s not devouring books and drinking cups of strong black coffee in downward facing dog, she’s fighting the patriarchy through interviewing women artists or giving you her heartfelt feminist opinion. She believes that the key to life is to be constantly interested in the women around you, only when we are mesmerised by the existence of each other can we truly unleash our greatest human potential. 
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