When Jon Fox won our October Oils competition, the Jackson’s team were really excited to see a painting that was full of energy and visually striking. ‘Sing for Your Supper’ is an unusual work which draws influence from computer games, manga and magical realism; a blind-folded woman goes up in flames while a ghostly feminine presence looks on in the background. In this fascinating interview Jon Fox reveals his influences and inspirations, and gives some pertinent advice to anyone pursuing an artistic life.
Lisa: What is the story behind ‘Sing For Your Supper’?
Jon: The story is based on the simple notion that we have always a choice when it comes to how we approach life – our problems, our choices / decisions, how we face the ups and downs and the challenges we inevitably encounter throughout our lives… with every moment, in every situation we always have a choice in how we deal with it all.
For example, we can choose to back away or sit in the shadows, try to ignore our problems, or to tuck them away or hide them (or from them)..to not face up to them or just play it safe and never take any risks – but in doing so perhaps denying ourselves a chance to live to our fullest potential.
…or we can throw ourselves open, put our hearts on the line, express ourselves completely and accept the consequences – which might initially hurt, or be difficult/uncomfortable or challenging, but ultimately we can find freedom in our choices..to react positively or negatively, it all comes back to choice.
Sing For Your Supper, I suppose the name came to me quite last minute -but really it’s just to sum up that idea that you need to earn the right to be free, and free in yourself by being brave in your choices, and open yourself up to the world. You can’t always sit back and wait for things to come to you – you have to go out and make it happen.
Lisa: On your website you say “I guess my belief is that if you go far enough inside yourself as an individual, you reach a universal space that we all share and are connected to. I try to create work from that space”. How do you access this space?
Jon: I think really with that statement I was trying to get across the point that when I make work, I want it to be coming direct from the source. There’s no real secret to accessing this part of ourselves, no special techniques as such – only that painting to me is a kind of active meditation I suppose. But not in some purposeful, ceremonial way – it just happens! Like it does for all of us when we become absorbed in the activity of something we love doing over an extended period of time. To try and put it in a way that’s not too airy-fairy.. I just feel the best work comes from when you paint with an open mind and open heart (and open eyes helps) – it needs to come from a deeply personal, vivid experience. So in a way, the more personal something becomes the more universal it becomes – as (it’s my belief) deep down we’re all one at the end of the day.
Lisa: Your paintings have a very crisp, flat quality. How do you achieve this?
Jon: I think it comes from the fact that as I developed in my younger years I was really focused on my draughtsmanship. I would also draw and copy from cartoons and comics all the time and then as I went through school I steadily learnt the basics of painting, but always with this emphasis on drawing. I think that has really affected my approach to how I use paint up to this day– I’m basically drawing with paint, and by building up flat plains of colour in thin layers of paint – I find I can maintain the elements of detail and line work that I enjoy.
Lisa: How do you go about developing your compositions? Do you ever use reference materials and if so, where do you source this?
Jon: For me personally, composition is key. It’s what makes or breaks a good piece of work in my opinion, so that part of my work is probably the most analysed part of the process. I’ve certainly used reference material in the past, less so now..but mainly just for particular elements within a piece if I need to. For the composition of course it’s more about analysing and judging the balance of the overall piece..so in that respect I am constantly taking photos of the work as it develops. From these photos, I’ll often run it through Photoshop – playing around with it / pulling it apart / drawing over it, whatever needs to be done until I’m happy with the next stage. Throughout the whole process, I’ll be constantly judging the overall composition, and trying to push it somewhere that I find interesting and surprising.
Lisa: What are the most important ingredients for finding success as an artist?
Jon: Well as far as I can tell, there’s certainly no set formula, and it really depends on what you define as ‘finding success’. But whether it’s success in your own personal work as a past time or hobby, or some kind of financial success if you pursue it as a career, either way you definitely need a healthy amount of determination and dedication to make it.
There’s no harm in making a plan, and if you want to make a living out of it, you need to have a strategy of sorts. Make the work you want to make – and don’t hold back. If you want to work big, then do it. Buy the materials – the best you can afford to – and do it properly.
Think about the kind of gallery you think will suit your work; there’s a gallery for every kind of style out there, but make sure you do your research and find ones that suit yours. When you feel like the work is ready, and you have a body of work that’s the best you can do, get a website up showcasing your work in a professional way, then contact those galleries. Make life easy for them! If you contact them in a professional way, with great work, and enough to put on a show it’s going to be a no-brainer for them. If it doesn’t work out straight away, keep going. Be open to feedback, and criticism- don’t be disheartened or put off, it’s all part of the process. Just keep working and improving and it’ll work out eventually.
At the end of the day it feels such a natural thing to be doing – so when you’re feeling like a bit of an outsider, you have to remember – we were painting in caves long before any of this man-made world around us existed! It’s a primal activity, but in the context of this day and age it’s become a difficult and crazy way to try and make a living… and it can be riddled with anxiety and worry, but it can also be extremely rewarding on so many levels regardless of how successful you are. So I think being mentally and emotionally robust enough to ride the highs and lows and just keep going, is important. Pick yourself up from the lows, keep your feet on the ground when you get the highs… be fearless, resourceful and unafraid to go your own way.
Sorry if I’m sounding like a self-help book! I’m by no means a success, but this is all just from my own experience from my very short career so far, and I’m happy to share that if it can help others in any way. Art, and in particular painting can be a very lonely and insular profession, so it’s always good to share more knowledge and experience with each other.
Lisa: What are you working on at the moment?
Jon: I’m currently making plans and getting started on a new body of work for the coming year. I have some really nice projects set out over the next 18 months, a few group shows, and then a dual show later in the year in Paris which I’m really looking forward to. But right at this point, it’s all about developing ideas and getting everything prepared.
Lisa: How important to you is it to have your work recognised through prizes, competitions and exhibitions?
Jon: Well, exhibitions are obviously a crucial part of building and sustaining a career in art. With prizes and competitions it’s not quite so important, but still a great way to gain exposure. Obviously it’s great to have your work recognised, and any rewards, prize-money, vouchers etc. is always extremely helpful!
There are plenty of prestigious prizes and competitions out there that if you do well in, can really help launch your career and open your work up to a wider audience which is never a bad thing. But you also have to remember with everything like that; it really does come down to the personal preference of the judges involved at the time, so you can’t get too disheartened if it doesn’t work out.
Lisa: How will you or have you spent your £150 gift voucher?
Jon: I actually spent it all last week! I’m getting together all my materials I’ll need for the following year of exhibitions and projects..so it came at just the right time! I bought a roll of canvas, and stocked up on Golden Heavy Body acrylics – which I’m attempting to convert to from oils, for the next series of work. I want to try and work faster(!), and with less solvents.
Jon Fox’s Work can be viewed on his website, www.soulofagiant.com
His work is also represented by the following galleries:
Kallenbach Gallery, Netherlands