Simon Foxall: “My work is queer, a bit trashy at times, funny I hope, and blends references from across art history and visual culture, but I am sincere about it.

How and why did you start your artistic career?


I always find it really hard to talk about painting as a career because I am such a romantic about it! I suppose I started like many artists do – the child who drew, becoming the teenager who drew and then the adult who drew. I just never stopped doing it. I wanted to be an actor when I was a child, but I wasn’t very good at it sadly. When I was about 16, after another failed audition for the school play, I was asked if I would design the poster for it instead.

The play was Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, and as a queer teenager with a taste for the theatrical I jumped at the chance to offer a personal creative response. I chose as my principal subject Lady Bracknell, and looking back I suppose she is the drag queen of the play!


For me that moment was pivotal. Someone wanted something I had drawn. I had never thought of that as a possibility before. So from then on, I wanted to be an artist.


How did you discover your medium and why did you choose it?


So, I mentioned I am a bit romantic about art making, maybe a bit idealistic. There are two pieces of advice I remember most from my time at Brighton. One was: never try to be cool – if you look at cool art in galleries, by the time you graduate, it won’t be cool anymore. And the other was: viewers can smell insincerity a mile away.


The Royal College of Art was far cooler, a bit more career driven. But I took the Brighton advice with me. Don’t be cool, be sincere. My work is queer, a bit trashy at times, funny I hope, and blends references from across art history and visual culture, but I am sincere about it. I believe that when we are a fan of a celebrity, it’s meaningful. Or when we love a pop song, it matters.
Or when we cry at a movie, get aroused by erotica, or swoon over the brushstrokes of a painting, it’s all real, and it’s all part of how we experience ourselves and our position within the world around us. There is more to it than that of course, but I take the ideas seriously even when they are a bit silly. I often use pop lyrics as titles. I listen to certain pop songs on repeat that seem to work with the painting – I don’t know why they work necessarily, but the song just seems to fit, or it gives me ideas. Pop songs are funny because the words are often so deep and dramatic but we listen to them in the gym or while cooking dinner like it’s not dramatic at all.


The romanticism though, meant that everytime I hit on something that ‘worked’, if it wasn’t quite what I was looking for, I moved on, looking for something else. I have always been a figurative artist, and I have always painted in oils, but I was never quite sure of the exact balance I was looking for between subject, narrative, beauty, the grotesque, flippancy and being earnest. For a long time I was anxious that every time I did an exhibition, no one would know what the work would be like because I kept changing all the time. I felt my work really hit on the balance I was waiting for when I left the UK. I am not saying it happened because I left the UK, but moving away was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream and I think I certainly felt more relaxed and open to find what I was looking for.


Can you talk about your creative process? How is your work born? How long you take? When do you know it’s over?


My process is quite simple I think. I draw. And my drawings are quite simple. Black felt pen or ballpoint pen, or watercolour. I use unforgiving materials, things I can’t alter or erase. Because my work begins from secondary imagery – photos, paintings, movie stills etc, I want to extract something from the image, but simultaneously start to distance myself from it. I draw very quickly, making as many mistakes as possible, sometimes drawing the same thing three or four times one after the other to make more and more mistakes. I am influenced by surrealism in many ways, but one of the ways is the automatic drawing concept that there is no such thing as an error, only a subjective mark. Then with those drawings in black pen I start to paint in oil.

I never draw on the canvas, everything is paint from the first marks. I’ll start with a simple entry point into the painting; a figure, a face, a landscape, and then I add things until something starts to happen. Occasionally, a painting might be lead by a colour. Recently in my amazing local art shop, Musso Colori in Asti, I was looking at some paints and picking out some new colours. I usually buy the series 1 to 3 range, as I don’t have lots of money, but I noticed the most gorgeous Cobalt Green. When I realised it was series 5, I put it back down and said that although it was beautiful, series 5 was a bit expensive for me so I would choose a different green. The lady in the shop disappeared for a moment and returned with small box with a little red bow on it, and inside was the tube of Cobalt Green. She gave it to me as a present which was so generous, so I decided to base a painting on that shade!


The time taken can vary a lot. I use quite small brushes and work on the painting quite intensely (which is one reason why they are not too big!) and sometimes a painting will stay unfinished for a long time if I don’t know what it needs. I know it’s over when it’s all united somehow. I read an Eric Fischl quote once in which he said he knew a painting was finished when he stopped thinking about paint, and started wondering what his subjects were thinking. I think I feel something similar. There is a moment when it seems to be complete. I am more confident about that these days, but sometimes I go back to paintings because I think I got it wrong and they aren’t finished at all…


Who are your favorite artists? Which ones are you inspired by?


So many! Giotto, J.S. Sargent, Rachel Ruysch, Tom of Finland. I love so many artists but spirituality, glamour, symbolism, sex and death are kind of my go-to emotional and aesthetic vibes. And that’s basically what culture is, I suppose.


Name: Simon Foxall
Residence: UK
Occupation: Painter