Sammy’s Beach Series
In her Sammy’s Beach series, Connie Fox responds to thirty years of life on the eastern tip of Long Island. The ongoing series pays homage to the light, air and shoreline, the sounds and smells and the natural architecture that forms over the glyphs and sandbars and the wetlands and woodland that populate the earth there.
But the focus of these paintings is not the landscape. Fox intuits the environment, using the rudiments of her surroundings the way Mondrian used jazz or Louise Bourgeois used memory. Yet, there is an aspect of nature – especially this particular nature – in her work. If there is an argument for the existence of an “East End school,” it might begin in the studio of Connie Fox.
The canvases, which range in scale from modest to monumental, are a mélange of textured grounds and tangles of form. Slips of iridescence play against knots of charcoal and loose grids, and swathes of pigment score the surface as they drip or graze across its face. Using the landscape as a departure point, the world within Fox’s canvas is one in which subject matter is anchored in the middle ground between cognition and disorder – between subject and object. The paintings ricochet from frenzy to calmness with kinetic energy.
Her daily sojourns to the bay beach might provide her with quiet reverie, but what she brings back to the studio is a roiling intensity informed not by allegory but by intellect. She delivers the environment without illustration or representation, and this is the central duality in her work – the dissonance between apprehension of the real and a simulation of it.
Fox spent her childhood on a wide stretch of prairie that runs along Colorado’s Santa Fe Trail. Growing up amid the ecological disaster of the 1930s Dust Bowl, outside her window the vast grasslands were obscured by black clouds – the Black Blizzards, as they were known – immense dust storms that surged across the country devastating mountain wilderness, farmland and families.
She has said that a pervasive memory of that time of the very air turned orange by dirt refracting the sunlight. The images from this time have remained distinctly in Fox’s purview; translated, it seems, into the churning black gestures, swirling veils and skeins of falling paint that fill her canvases.
After graduating college she bicycled across Europe ruminating, taking pictures and defining the creative platform that has informed her art for over six decades. In the early 1950s Fox retrenched and, trading one form of wanderlust for another, enrolled in the University of New Mexico to pursue her graduate degree. There she would rub shoulders with some of America’s most significant abstractionists, among them Elaine de Kooning, with whom she would remain lifelong friends. Though the tenets of mid-century abstraction were not lost on Fox, she was no one’s disciple. Single-minded and a little irascible, the young artist forged a path that would assimilate the natural world as well as gesture and intuition. In the long arch of Fox’s artistic development, she has maintained an abiding esteem for the artist’s hand. The presence of the hand infers a kind of corporeality-the painter-and the way vision is transmuted through the eye, the body and the fingertips. In the act of painting, Fox might be thinking about beauty and entropy or growth and decay or contemplating William Blake or John Donne or she might be listening as the shells along Sammy’s beach crunch under her heels. Whatever the source, in her paintings she tells a story not of what it looks like, but of what it is.
– Janet Goleas, Curator/Critic, East Hampton