Born in 1981, he studied at Camberwell Art College and the Royal College of Art. While at the RCA he co-founded Le Gun, the art collective and publication of the same name.
Emaho catches up with London – based artist / illustrator Neal Fox who brings together unlikely characters like William Burroughs and Francis Bacon sipping tea together. The macabre, the surreal and the fantastic come together in his work.
Emaho : There is a certain amount of conscious effort on your part to resurrect grand philosophers and writers like Bacon and William Burroughs in your art. What message do you wish to convey through them?
The Bacon i draw is Bacon the artist rather the philosopher… what seems to tie together mosts of the people in my drawings is that they are iconoclasts and free thinkers, renegades and drinkers. They saw the world through their own unique lens. Maybe what i want to convey is the same as those other philosophers known as Fleetwood Mac; “you can go your own way”.
Anatomy of the Beast
Emaho : Illustrating is an art hard to master. Could you elaborate the process you go through in creating one illustration?
Usually a line from a book or a song or film will spark and idea in my head that hangs around for a while until it connects with other ideas. Then i start drawing first in pencil and then indian ink. I don’t really know what is going to happen when i start. New images and narratives occur to me my while i’m drawing which get added in. I’m on google a lot. There’s a flood of information which is influenced a lot by the internet.
Emaho : Your grandfather seems to be a great influence in your artwork, figuring in his trademark black hat and a trenchcoat. Could you tell us how he created such an impact on you?
He died when i was young but i always heard stories about him when i was growing up. Its probably what got me interested in storytelling, the way my family mythologized him and the way he lived. His name was John Watson. He was a writer and a bon viveur, a bomber pilot, chats how host and publisher of pulp fiction. He used to write hard boiled detective novels under the pseudonym Nat Karta. I started drawing him as i imagined he had lived, and gradually the drawings became more abstract, with his spirit on a journey through the mythology of pop culture.
Emaho : The Beat poets seem to recur in your art constantly especially Bukowski and William Burroughs. How have they become significant to your art?
My dad has always been really into the Beats so growing up the house was full of Beat books. I’m actually named after Neal Cassady, who was the inspiration for Kerouac’s On the Road, and later the driver of Ken Kesey’s magic bus. My dad travelled a lot when he was young and made quite psychedelic artwork about it which made me interested in that lifestyle. I’m into the way the Beats real and imaginative lives fused together, though sometimes it didn’t last like with Kerouac, who became disillusioned. I like to enter the worlds of these different writers and then fuse them together, their imaginations and their real lives.
Emaho : There is an assertion of pop culture but within it, a kind of critiquing it too. What is the larger meaning you want to show?
I”m still trying to work that out myself really… I’m interested in the different levels of reality… of world events and the media landscape, our everyday banal lives, and then then the world inside our heads. Maybe i am trying to make allegorical history paintings, but of our confused media saturated modern history, with these iconoclasts as the heroes moving through the landscape. I like the idea of the carnivalesque, of liberation through humour and chaos, and the artist as Fool.
In Search of Yage
Emaho : You seem to have co-founded the art magazine Le Gun while you were still at college. How intimately are you involved with it now?
Very much so… we all have studios in the same building, and at the moment we are working on an installation for a show called Memory Palace at the V & A, also an idea for a giant labyrinth of Le Gun, and hopefully a new magazine too.
Journey to the End of the Night
Emaho : There seems to be a lot of prolific and visionary writers who constantly feature in your work like Aldous Huxley, Francis Bacon, not to mention the Beat poets. How much of your reading influences your art?
Its the biggest influence on me, my studio is full of books, my bookshelf collapsed a while ago. I’m a bit all over the place with reading, i dip in and out of a lot of different things. My main influence recently has been J G Ballard, who was a kind of visionary of pop culture and its effect on our psyches… the idea of an over stimulated society having a nervous breakdown. My drawings are all about narratives and mythologies really so i like to hop on the backs of different writers like a drunken monkey and see where they take me.
Little Drop of Poison
Emaho : Debauchery, grotesque, and iconoclastic are some of the adjectives used to describe your artwork. How would you choose to describe your own work in three words?