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