Neal Fox & Les Coleman:
How To Make It In The Art Business
Neal’s 2002 portrait of Les Coleman advising him to ‘Paint Cats’.
A bomber pilot, writer, publisher, chat-show host and bohemian bon viveur who teetered through Soho’s hedonistic circles, John Watson was the colourful grandfather Neal Fox barely knew. In 1982, as revealed in the Daniel Blau monograph on Fox entitled 2000 Light Years from Home, Watson wrote a letter to his grandson aged one, to be opened only on his 21st birthday in 2002. In it, he suggested that Fox should raise a toast and “Smell the roses on the way along”, advice he has been following ever since.
A photo of Les Coleman showing Neal a Magritte book.
Equally formative to Fox as he was growing up was family friend, Les Coleman, an artist-writer and teacher, and author of Meet The Art Students, which I reviewed here. Coleman would expose Fox from an impressionable age to René Magritte, Robert Crumb, Art Spiegelman and other painters and comix artists and stimulate discussions and responses. Drawing had always been important to Fox since childhood, when he designed elaborate comics with younger brother Leigh or a booklet of portraits of every member of the Royal Family including the corgis.
A childhood strip by Neal Fox.
After his studies at Camberwell College of Arts, Fox was unsure how to continue making his art and was jokingly advised by Coleman: “Paint cats.” Out of their shared satirical perspective evolved a stinging script by Coleman entitled How To Make It In The Art Business, which Fox illustrated as a one-page comic distributed via BookArtBookshop, London and Boekie Woekie, Amsterdam in 2002.
Meanwhile, Fox found his feet at the Royal College of Art where he gathered like-minded cohorts to form Le Gun, a collective to publish their eponymous experimental illustration anthology, whose fifth issue popped out last summer. They also devise group exhibitions including most recently a room drawn at full size in black-and-white representing the contents of the late George Melly’s suitcase. Since graduating in 2005, Fox’s solo career has also flourished as an illustrator for the press and through gallery shows of his monochrome, mythical tableaux of Francis Bacon, William Burroughs and other rebel heroes from his alternative cultural pantheon, often haunted by his grandfather’s ghostly shamanic presence.
This summer, in the show ‘Beware of the God’ Fox brought striking stained-glass windows of the infamous to Daniel Blau in London, while in November he takes part in ‘La Catastrophe’ at Suzanne Tarasieve in Paris, a Le Gun show themed around the last meal of a ‘forgotten’ group of artists who broke away from the Surrealists and called themselves The Black Squid.
Exhibition flyer for a group show in Basel Switzerland in 2010
showing Charles Bukowski assaulting Mickey Mouse.
Despite, or perhaps because of, his having tasted some artworld success, Fox has reunited below with Coleman, venting again with a bee in his beret, for a barbed sequel explaining How To Make It In The Artistic Entertainment Industry. Their two two-page colour collaboration is published in the current issue of Art Review magazine, appropriately coinciding with their ‘Power 100’ list of the artworld’s movers and shakers and with the mania of London’s Frieze Art Fair. In Big Is Best, Fox’s caricatures skewer today’s celebrities while over their heads, a sausage-like intestinal string of Zeppelin-sized speech balloons mimic the gigantism of the puffed-up public art and inflated egos and budgets which Fox and Coleman gleefully set out to puncture.
This Article originally appeared in Art Review magazine.