Mak­ing his mark, find­ing his way

Ta­lented Jack Fox draws on the artis­tic cap­i­tal of his par­ents but is on own jour­ney, writes MICHAEL MOR­RIS

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE -

IN ONE sense, Jack Fox is an elu­sive sub­ject, a per­sona rather than a per­son, and, not ac­ci­den­tally, quite fox-like – shy, watch­ful, keenly in­tel­li­gent, and a lit­tle wary of at­ten­tion. He is slight and soft-spo­ken, and oc­ca­sion­ally seems lost for words, reach­ing within for ideas which he of­fers with an al­most apolo­getic ten­ta­tive­ness, or a shy chuckle, as if say­ing them out loud he is test­ing them him­self, and is not al­ways wholly con­vinced the words he has cho­sen are ad­e­quate to the scale or im­port of what he wants to ex­press.

And, you might say, no won­der; Jack Fox is, af­ter all, a 17-year-old school­boy, grin­ningly em­bar­rassed at the prob­ing at­ten­tion of the cam­era lens, and seem­ingly be­mused at the cu­rios­ity he at­tracts.

Ex­cept, th­ese facts are de­cep­tive; he is still at school, his near shoul­der-length hair notwith­stand­ing, and his birth name is Keya – but this data is in­ci­den­tal to the fact that Jack Fox is an artist, and one whose work, stag­ger­ing in its way at his age, is fea­tured in gal­leries and pub­lic spa­ces in Paris, Ber­lin, Mada­gas­car, New York, Aus­tralia, Cal­i­for­nia, Switzer­land, Malaga and, of course, Cape Town.

In a way, he was born into it – his mother is the (per­haps ev­ery bit as enig­mat­i­cally named) street artist, Faith47, a former teenage tag­ger or graf­fiti artist who has since gained in­ter­na­tional stand­ing, and his fa­ther is the tat­too artist, Tyler B Mur­phy of Sins of Style.

He cred­its the in­flu­ence of his par­ents in his early at­tach­ment to draw­ing – and a love of travel, the two com­bined, as he ex­plained in a re­cent in­ter­view with arts writer Houghton Kins­man, mak­ing one “ex­tremely aware of be­ing in the mo­ment”, and feel­ing that “any­thing is pos­si­ble”.

It is safe to say he him­self is the author of this en­gag­ing and ener- getic craft­ing of pos­si­bil­i­ties, which, to­day, en­com­passes mu­sic videos, draw­ing, street art, comic books, lyrics and an­i­ma­tion.

Jack Fox started out as Cashril Plus, but de­cided even­tu­ally that it did not fully cap­ture the spirit of his work or his in­ten­tions and the es­sen­tially nar­ra­tive na­ture of his mo­tifs, large mono­chrome fig­ures vividly and densely hatched and marked, and touched off with ap­par­ently ran­dom words or phrases.

The new name, which took him “a long time to find”, en­com­passed an early and last­ing ad­mi­ra­tion for the fox as an an­i­mal – “I al­ways drew foxes, and I like their na­ture, be­ing shy and in­tel­li­gent” – and, in “Jack”, a nar­ra­tive “archetype” that res­onated with what he re­gards as the “story-telling feel” of his work.

He was ini­tially in­ter­ested, from an early age, in graf­fiti, but his fo­cus shifted to street art as be­ing a form that was “more cre­ative” and en­abled a purer ex­pres­sion of his own ideas and an emerg­ing pref­er­ence for “char­ac­ters”.

“I still re­spect graf­fiti a lot, but there’s a dif­fer­ence in the men­tal­ity… graf­fiti tends to be more about do­ing it il­le­gally, and the style fo­cuses on let­ters, whereas street art is more con­nected with the cul­ture scene that’s up-and­com­ing, and is more fresh…”

The ob­jec­tive is sim­ply stated: it is to “cre­ate an at­mos­phere of pos­i­tive cre­ativ­ity”, in ur­ban – or vir­tual – set­tings, and to “con­nect with peo­ple… by cre­at­ing a good space”.

Achiev­ing this de­pends, in part, on avoid­ing di­dac­tic or pre-con­ceived in­ten­tions, to work “in­tu­itively”.

“It’s a very pure form of ex­pres­sion… and it’s im­por­tant for me to have a feel­ing be­fore I be­gin – like a con­cept, but not some­thing you can put into words.

“Hav­ing that feel­ing is a lot bet­ter than hav­ing a de­tailed sketch be­fore­hand. Of­ten I’ll just have a rough sketch, but what’s more im­por­tant, when I walk into a space, is the feel­ing and at­mos­phere that’s there”.

Be­ing wary of con­trivance, he says he tends “not to put too much thought into it”.

“I’ve been draw­ing since about the age of three, and it’s re­ally just evolved, and I’ve al­ways wanted to nat­u­rally re­flect my life, so I feel most of it is sub­con­scious.

“I have started to have more fo­cused ideas, but there’s al­ways a risk in ‘over-say­ing’ what you are try­ing to get across.”

Not that it’s tech­ni­cally hap­haz­ard. “I have al­ways liked to draw with a fine­liner, where you have to work ef­fi­ciently and be fo­cused. There’s no room for er­ror.

“And it’s no dif­fer­ent do­ing it on a larger scale – though it is quite a chal­lenge when you have to use a fork­lift, which I’ve only done once.

“Nor­mally I paint out­lines in dots with a paint­brush, and if it seems right, I can imag­ine the whole.

“That’s the key to plac­ing it in my mind and it’s much eas­ier… and I can en­gage close up”.

Jack Fox is presently in his 12th year at Wal­dorf School – a pre­ma­tric year that is de­voted to a project, which, in his case, is a mu­sic video (on YouTube at: jack fox - go into the dark­ness) he has made with col­lab­o­ra­tors.

He cre­ated the elec­tronic sound­track and wrote the lyrics – it’s a rap-style piece – which are per­formed on the video by a friend of his mother’s, an ex-of­fender who is now with the Young in Pri­son re­form pro­gramme. The movie also fea­tures Jack Fox’s an­i­ma­tion, and, fleet­ingly, some of his mu­rals.

He is presently work­ing on a comic book, a web se­ries (again, a col­lab­o­ra­tion with var­i­ous oth­ers), and work for a gallery in Cal­i­for­nia in the US.

Jack Fox is mod­est about his grow­ing body of in­ter­na­tional work – it in­cludes a con­tri­bu­tion, along­side work by his mother, to a slab of the Ber­lin Wall.

He did the piece while vis­it­ing France with Faith47, and it is now tour­ing Europe.

He re­cently trav­elled to Aus­tralia on a com­mis­sion from a cloth­ing chain – “my dad came with me, as my chauf­feur … it was pretty cool” – and, in De­cem­ber, he is to visit Ger­many and Viet­nam.

In a re­cent ar­ti­cle, writer and critic Ashraf Ja­mal wrote of Faith47’s tra­jec­tory that, “(i)ncreas­ingly dis­con­nected from the coun­try's re­alpoli­tik, drawn more to that which sanc­ti­fies the more ab­stractly hu­man, her work has, as a con­se­quence, found a larger transna­tional view­er­ship”.

Re­mark­ably, it could be that her son, one of Cape Town’s youngest artists, is feel­ing his way into much the same ter­rain.

PIC­TURE: MICHAEL WALKER

FIND­ING THE FOX: Cape Town artist Jack Fox with one of his dis­tinc­tive mu­rals in­side a Water­front build­ing.

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