I force my way out of the crammed carriage onto the station platform, I am caught in a downpour. I walk for ten minutes as the spring rain washes the day’s sun from memory. Traffic fumes penetrate my lungs and rain pours onto my sandaled feet, seeping through my socks.
Danny Fox opens his front door and leads me up two flights of stairs into his studio. My wet rubber soles slap noisily upon the wood. Light streams through west-facing windows onto the huge canvasses stacked deep against every wall. He hands me a cup of tea.
Danny is hungover. He’s been out with his dad. “I’ve had a lot of hangovers,” he notes quietly, “it’s something that I battle with constantly. The best times are the sober times painting.”
Growing up in St Ives, the Cornish seaside town whose name is heavy with the histories of past centuries’ artists, Danny became involved in art from a young age. He had his first show, he tells me, when he was eight, exhibiting prints of lino and etching.
“I suppose there was something to measure myself against. The house I grew up in was directly outside [Alfred] Wallis’ house. So when I walked out the door in the morning, the first thing I saw was the plaque outside his house.”
Yet despite a glaring homage to Wallis in the image of a sail boat which dominates the lower right side of the piece ‘What Are Cornish Boys To Do’, a work he later heralds as a “masterpiece”, neither St Ives nor Wallis, Fox claims, have been particularly influential on his work.
And so to London, aged seventeen, followed by Hastings and Cardiff and “years of bouncing around”, odd jobs and manual labour. “I had wanderlust,” he tells me.
This otherworldliness manifests itself on canvas. In signs and symbols here I see that his ‘wanderlust’ has taken him around Asia, Africa, America. Talking me through the canvasses that fill the studio around us, Danny is quick to decode the symbols, matching each to the country that inspired them.
He’s been to Thailand lately, and France. In one canvas, there’s a huge Eiffel Tower. Another canvas, entitled ‘Beef’, is punctuated by cows’ heads. He started painting it in his head when he was in California, when, driving through cattle fields he was struck by the stench and the greying, barren landscape which now fills the painting.
Another canvas features a ladyboy, Thailand, surreally paired with a bottle of Colman’s mustard, a can of Stella and the Three Lions. England’s dominance in Thailand, Danny tells me, the neo-colonialism of the tourist world.
My thoughts return to Fox’s use of the now antiquated German word “wanderlust” and it’s displacement in modern German with the word ‘Ferwech’; farsickness, homesickness in negative.
Danny’s work is unblinkingly self-reflexive. Complex life is layered over each canvas, staring you down with brutish dominance. He tells me that the first thing he painted was love. “I was painting women mostly. Well, girls I suppose. My 14-year-old girlfriend was the first thing I painted… I was painting at that stage what was fucking me up, what was killing me – first love. You can’t think about much else.”
Like his childhood inspiration, Alfred Wallis, Danny Fox is a self-taught artist. He is strikingly honest about his process, free from the platitudes of overworked gallery copy (“With a painting at the end of the day, you’re making a picture. It’s just colours and shapes moving around until it’s right”) and about the directness with which he thinks art should be viewed. “All you have to do is look [at a painting] and enjoy the magic”.
Art forms a document of self for Danny, a “fingerprint”. “It has to say something about yourself,” he says, “it has to be honest to genuinely document your life.”
In a digital world obsessed with sharing everything from achingly intimate details of recent breakups to #aftersex selfies, sharing personal thoughts with the world has never been so easy. Still, there’s potency in the willing self-exposure in Danny’s work and notably on his blog, which outlines a sexual experience in which his girlfriend straddles a Thai ladyboy on all fours.
“I don’t worry about being judged, if that’s what you’re asking,” Danny mutters, “In fact, I’m here to be judged.”
Yet woven somewhere deep in this outward display of bravado is something more vulnerable. As I talk about the curse of the ‘digital footstep’, he becomes quiet, self-reflective. “Having to look at old paintings that I wish I hadn’t shown bothers me,” Fox admits, “And with the internet, they’re right there, in your face.”
The mood of our conversation becomes heavier as he seems to forget the presence of the small Dictaphone on the table between us, the object that has acted as a barrier between us for an hour now.
I look around the room, wondering whether the canvas he had earlier termed a “masterpiece” will be one such painting, destined to haunt him in the future. He seems to read my mind as he glances over the work surrounding us on every side of the small room as he continues: “For example, this next show I’m doing. One day I might wish I’d never done it. But it doesn’t matter. Because I could die tomorrow.”
He pauses in reflection. “I’m sitting in this bedsit painting these huge paintings on faith that it’s going to work. It’s only paintings but I’ve given everything to them.”
Danny Fox’s next exhibition will run from 16th October 2014 at the Cock ’n’ Bull Gallery, Rivington Street, London. See more of Danny’s work at http://dannyfox.tumblr.com