To Dream, to Collect

Follow

Saint George II (arrest), 2020

Make a request for Saint George II (arrest) available on fair

Artwork offered by

Dated Titled

Size

114 x 220 cm
44.88 x 87 in

Reference

477f902e

Year

2020

Medium

Paintings

Category


  • About the work

In the past I have painted to a theme and used juxtapositions in the gallery to create tensions between paintings. I wanted to see if I could control those tensions from the beginning by using a narrative, and to paint a series with a definable sequence.

I took Saint George as a subject because as a real person he is unknown, but as a mythical hero he is almost universally acknowledged, for killing a dragon, which is something he obviously never did in real life.

The tension between reality and myth was inspiring, though it also caused problems. His vagueness meant there were too many ways in which he and his story were interesting:

as a symbol of English identity
as a symbol of masculinity
of mythical masculinity
as a psychoanalytic myth: the conquering of desire as a religious martyr

In the end it was in the process of painting that I discovered what was important to me: his torture, death, and resurrection as a mythical hero.

I realized I was most interested in the play between weight and lightness, depth and flatness. I made the body sometimes heavy and shaded for relief (I looked at Caravaggio for depth and Mantegna for extreme perspective) and sometimes flat and lightly painted (medieval panel painting and René Gruau’s rapid line and gestures). Sometimes the paint is heavy and textured but often it is thin and reveals the canvas underneath. I was playing with depicting Saint George as both a real person with a corporeal presence, and an archetype with the depth of a tarot card.

In the end the story is ambiguous, and I like it that way. It depicts moments from his life (and the myth that was given to him) but I hope it also raises questions about what we find compelling and attractive in a male hero and his story (the struggle and the violence, the vindication and the strength). Also whether a dragon is something to be feared or embraced.

Another way to read it is as a description of the process of painting – the struggle to work against other people and their expectations, the removal of your head, the death of ego, and the struggle to release creative and sexual energy, to control it, to channel the energy into work without thinking, to paint without ego, as if you weren’t even there.


About the Artists

1980 , United Kingdom

Alex Foxton has only been painting for a few years, yet his only subjects so far have been male figures, or rather, male archetypes: noble warriors, legendary soldiers, dangerous sailors, rebels, lonesome heroes. Foxton does not hesitate to convene major historical figures, notably two tutelary characters for their own national narratives: France’s Napoléon Bonaparte (his adoptive land) and Great Britain’s Horatio Nelson (his homeland). The first is known for conquest of Europe, the latter for his legendary sea battles for the Royal Navy. Both embody a certain idea of flamboyant and murderous manhood. Napoleon, while identifying himself with Alexander the Great, sacrificed six million lives for his ambition of conquering the continent; Nelson, an officer known for his audacity and insubordination, lost an eye and an arm during his maritime adventures for the glory of the British crown, and died close to the cape of Trafalgar. The main character of the exhibition, “Ultra-marine”, a clever pun on the deep blue employed on the paintings, as well as the figure’s characterization as some ultimate war sailor embodiment, with his bicorn, shoulder pieces and medals, also played that tune. On a similar level, Foxton split the famous mutineer of the Bounty, a romantic icon if any, into two separate characters: one named Fletcher, the other Christian. Both reprise the traits of a famous French serial killer. The artist confesses having chosen the sailor figure “because it is a large and universal theme, one can find them everywhere around the world”, but also “because sailors incarnate exploration, they are a metaphor of adventure and research, as I envision my own painting”.

At first, this list may appear as a composite picture of manhood and its associated features: bravery, violence, audacity, authority and rebellion. Yet, if you take a closer look, you would see that the artist never validates those archetypes: on the contrary, he disrupts them. Each one of those images of courage and violence exhales a scent of isolation, frailness, abandonment. Thus, they are always presented alone in each painting, even if they belong to diptychs or triptychs. All of them are put into positions that symbolize at best a state of waiting, and often weakness or passivity.
The disarmament of a certain discourse of masculinity operates through the figuration type used by the artist. Here, the body is at stake: the broadened size of shoulders, the scaled-down hips, the disappearance pf the chin and jaws are contradictory signs of a manhood displayed and denied at the same time, as if the figures were dolls mimicking an excess of testosterone, yet without really fulfilling it.
This contrast is also noticeable with the representation of the body. It is frequently pictured with flat colors, while hands, and more importantly the face, display a strong feeling of relief. In fact, the artist says he always begins his painting with the representation of the face, in order to give his image some depth in a small surface, before immediately neutralizing it with a vivid and flat color, in order to make us feel even more the artificiality o the representation.
Again, we get that impression of having a doll in our hands: soft body, plastic face. This bodily segmentation is reinforced by the chromatic work: the deep blue is often put next to a “lipstick red” or candy pink, more female-oriented colours, suggesting the character’s ambiguity. The deep blue was elected almost by chance: it was simply the first powder pigment bought by the artist, fascinated with the material quality. This blue was quickly considered as a sea metonymy, a space of adventure and perdition, but also of travel into unconsciousness. Ochre came as its natural counterpart, before the artist turned to pink, a color that has intrigued him for a long time because of its multiple associations: flesh, kitsch, sweetness, little girls…
Alex Foxton seems to have some malicious delight in collapsing those prototypes of manhood. The ‘Ultra-marine’ doesn’t really have any credibility in his flashy pink attire. Napoleon gets deprived of his traditional outfit to be showcased as a young pirate, with his scarf and earring. Same thing for Nelson, who is rejected as a grand officer and presented as a young recruit with a juvenile face. It’s a way for Alex Foxton to give them back their complexity as mere men, with their strengths and weaknesses, to erase the oversimplification varnish of the ‘national hero’ label, and to address his “real respect for these men”. As for the others figures, the parallel between those stale male archetypes and homoerotic icons is way too strident to be ignored, and amplifies the feeling that Alex Foxton’s painting tries to deconstruct the traditional approach towards masculinity.
With his paintings, he sculpts new icons of manhood, with all its complexity and ambiguity. The artist notices that, in fact, “uniforms, like suits, function as purely symbolic armour”. The figures’ elegance, the beauty of the contrasts, the quality of the colour selection, all immediately strike the viewer. Yet these paintings never fall into mere ornamentation, and even dare to set foot on the dangerous fields of art history. A sharp eye can spot several fallen angels, a few Marsyas about to be flayed, some Picasso acrobats, while other more frontal characters evoke harlequins from the blue-to-rose transition period of the same artist. Alex Foxton doesn’t fear to claim that Picasso, Braque and Matisse “are [his] heroes”, landmarks that he want to honor, but also defy. The lack of a classical artistic education gives him the freedom to go to the Great Masters’ field to question them, to push them to their limits, as a bad pupil would do with his favourite teacher. That is the same freedom we feel in his unapologetic exploration of figurative oil painting – a trait he shares with his generation – a freedom that allows him to quote Picasso’s forms, Matisse’s or even Hockney’s colours, without bearing the burden of such inheritance. Also, the very genre of the academic portrait seems questioned. Those kinds of painting, and the artists affiliated with them, have been instrumental in creating our views on manhood. Wandering around those antique myths and theses official representations, the artist performs an archeology of gender, of which he unveils the different layers.
In his own way, Alex Foxton puts into question masculine identity on several levels, but each time in depth, delivering a tension-filled painting, that mixes with mastery an archeology of images and the power of colour. According to him, his paintings act more as reflections of his own questions, rather than definitive statements. This gender painting is –before anything else – some great painting.

Nicolas-Xavier Ferrand
 


Read more
More from the Artist

See other works by Alex Foxton

View all
k
About the Gallery

Address

Paris, 38, rue Notre Dame de Nazareth

Galerie Derouillon, is a contemporary art gallery installed since September 2012 in the emerging district of Haut-Marais in Paris....

Read more

Similar Works by

Start browsing similar works according to Medium

Paintings
k

Ritratto con Rose

420_

35 x 50 cm

420,00 €

56 alberi della vita

2021

80 x 90 cm

2600,00 €

MT_85_21_01

2021

113 x 113 cm

0,00 €

Newsletter

I read the Privacy Policy and I consent to the processing of my personal data