February 21, 2014

Mark Fox: On a Scale of 1 to 10

If To Be Proscenia, 2012; colored pencil on paper with linen tape and metal pins, 30 x 40 in.

One of the pleasures in walking around Chelsea, popping in and out of galleries, is discovering work that is new to me. On my most recent visit I was introduced to the work of Mark Fox, in a show titled MFKPMQ, at Robert Miller Gallery. I have to say that I don't think I've ever seen a show which has elicited a wider range of reactions from me, from absolute love to strong dislike; this is a very interesting artist. Most of the work was on paper or made of paper, and the piece above was a marvel. Finely drawn colored lines make rectangles; they attach to one another and float a little off the wall, making another space of complex shadows.

If To Be Proscenia detail

The piece seems almost unbelievable, magical, line made into form and into light. There is tremendous charm in it too, a lyrical brightness that's so appealing.

SOB (large), 2010; colored pencil on paper with archival tape, 30 1/2 x 53 in. 

This is another piece similar to Proscenia, with colored lines breaking free of their confinement on paper and floating as if blown by wind across the wall.

Sluggo #1, 2013; oil on paper with archival tape, 39 x 45 in.

In another approach to a paper work hanging a little off the wall, Fox paints small rounded shapes that spill outwards, ending in an irregular edge, giving a sense of an ever-expanding life force. Beautiful.

Juggler of the Big Idears, 2013; acrylic, ink, watercolor, marker, color pencil on paper with PVA glue, bronze, wood, Styrofoam, 87 x 70 x 19 in.

But then there is this heavy heavy piece of sculpture (though made mostly of paper) in a room of gold wallpaper. There's nothing about it that I like except for the humorous title. A show like this makes me think about taste as an issue, my own of course: can I tease out why I like or don't like certain art works? It's difficult to do. I could say I don't like this because of its large size, but there are many large works that I love; is it the presentation which seems ponderous in a gold-papered room? perhaps; is it simply that the form and color don't mesh for me? or that the clown shoe seems just off putting? Or I could admit that I have no way into it; it blocks my understanding and my aesthetic joy.

Nothing Discernable, 2013; ink, acrylic, watercolor, marker, and pencil on paper; 22 3/4 x 28 7/8 in.

Back to work I loved in the show: drawings, developed from random drops on paper, become all-over subtle layerings of marks, evoking a gentle chaos as of objects floating in mist.

Silver Pools, 2012; ink and acrylic enamel on paper, 50 x 38 in.

Or in Silver Pools, busily multiplying forms, hovering in light. The touch in these works is assured, yet sensitive, attentive to every nuance of dark and light.

Jan 1, 2013; ink, acrylic, watercolor, marker, and pencil on paper; 22 3/4 x 28 7/8 in.

I came to look at other drawings that I didn't like at all; too much going on, with a mix of abstraction, imagery, and text that I found uncomfortable. I took a photo of this drawing in the gallery as one that I didn't like, but now, when I look at it in a smaller size on my screen, it looks wonderful to me, full of a controlled energy. So again...to try to understand my responses: I think that seeing it in a small size has allowed me to see the overall form, the sweep of marks, the balance of full and empty, that now look very satisfying to me.

Diptych, 2010; polished stainless steel, ca. 96 x 96 in.
image courtesy Robert Miller Gallery

Fox makes site-specific steel curtains made up of words. Maybe it's that I've seen a lot of contemporary art using text, some interesting and some not, but this work leaves me completely cold. There's nothing in it that made me want to look more closely, not the form of the calligraphy, not the materials, and not the occasional word that pops out at me.

Confused History of Bad Drawing, 2013; acrylic, ink, watercolor, colored pencil, and gold leaf on paper with foam and metal saw horse; dimensions variable, ca. 108 x 68 x 61 in.

I felt very ambivalent towards this piece, and my feelings about it keep shifting. As in all Fox's work, it is very finely crafted, here of tubes of painted paper. It is an exploded creature, rising from clean metal legs into a frenzy of color and rounded lines. At one moment I love it, then my architectonic sensibility––more comfortable with simpler compositions of horizontal and vertical and clearly receding planes; an example is my loving early Renaissance painting and hating the Baroque––takes over and I think it's just too too much. I learned in an interview with Fox that he had worked in puppetry for many years and it seems that the live spirit of that art is still very much with his current work.

Excited by Drawing, 2013; ink, watercolor, marker, oil, acrylic, colored pencil, crayon, and graphite on  paper, found level; 41 1/2  24 x 14 in.

Snare, 2013; ink, watercolor, colored pencil, and acrylic on paper with wire; 19 1/2 x 21 x 15 1/2 in. 

These two small sculptures are in the "I love it" category: their simplicity and whimsy are wonderful. A frivolous line of cones rises, curving, above an object that insists on being straight; a bent arm of color dangles a pom-pom of black and white lines of paper. They are closer in sensibility to Confused History than to Sluggo, but I can see that the same artist made them all, even the Juggler of Big Idears. I admire that Mark Fox has an abundance of different ideas, even if it leaves a viewer such as myself saying "this is beautiful, this is awful". Then I think of myself and my various endeavors and know that they can elicit the same responses from love to hate. As artists we have to move forward, no matter the responses from the outside world.