James Fox: An alternative view
Visual artist James Fox seeks to challenge our expectations of gender roles in modern society and the workplace through his artwork. Often he juxtaposes these subversive themes with the techniques he uses (machine embroidery and reverse appliqué) to create an incongruous, ironic feel to his pieces. Having graduated from Goldsmiths college with a first class degree, he has exhibited and sold textile-based work nationally and internationally. Here James discusses how he fell into textile art, his practises and what drives him to make art.
Framework and freedom
As a young boy all I ever wanted was to be an electrician like my dad. At the time there was full employment, and although education was important to the working class of inner-city Glasgow it was not as important as a good job and the ability to buy the latest fashion. So after being made redundant from an engineering apprenticeship I found myself looking for work in the industrial wasteland of Thatcher’s 80s. Further education at the time enabled me to access a small grant and I embarked on a life in art which I had never considered in the past.
After my foundation course I was keen to carry on in this field and considered doing fine art. My tutor suggested looking at Goldsmiths college textile course. This offered what I considered to be a more interesting path than most of the fine art courses. The workshop I enjoyed most was, to my amazement, machine embroidery. This gave me the framework of mechanics which I enjoyed and the freedom to manipulate images through freehand embroidery.
The call of the Bernina
Upon leaving college I embarked on a scholarship to India, which was enlightening but a little too industrially-based for my liking. When I returned to the UK I worked in various occupations, including set design for the RSC. and graphic design for the BBC. I decided to take an offer of work in the Lake District for an engineering firm and try to continue with my own art work alongside this. Initially I was working with print and paint but the call of the Bernina was too much and I was once more drawn to fabric.
No one had ever said it outright but people had insinuated that working with cloth is exclusively a feminine pastime and therefore not worthy of the label ‘fine art’. My work sets out to present the adaptations we have all had to perfect in order to take our place in the 21st century: men being more active in parenting; juggling the work/ life balance; the pressure of a consumerist, aspirational culture; the necessity of changing our expectations of working and domestic life.
Perception vs reality
I begin gathering images that interest me for whatever reason, be it aesthetic, political, nostalgic etc. then arrange them on a drawn out framework and rearranging till I find a satisfactory composition.
The choice of fabric and colour is governed by a desire to provide contrasts between what we anticipate and the reality in which we find ourselves. Using materials found and given enhance the sense of having to continually alter and adapt these expectations.
I sometimes choose subjects that enhance the idea of masculinity and try and find an alternative view (e.g. my LA series depicts portraits of gang members with a floral background, emphasising the contradiction in what we perceive and what can actually be the reality). Similarly, the reverse applique, ‘Fraternity quilt’, presents the idea of gang members making a quilt together to show allegiance in a traditionally female pastime.
In conclusion, my work uses textiles and fabric techniques to illustrate the contrasts and adaptations of our ever changing society and to provide visual stimulus for discussion of the need to change and develop our expectations.
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