Steve Cox, a London born artist who moved to Australia in the late 60’s, creates paintings and watercolours that, in general, focus on the human psyche. He is divorced with two children and has ideas that are based on stories of serial killers, the drug and rave culture, extremities of the human condition and artistic taboo. His work ranges from portraiture to narratives to (what he describes as) stream of consciousness landscapes; the latter is quite surreal.
His attraction to murder cases has become a powerful subject in many of his pieces; he has incorporated examples such as Mary Bell, the Pevensey boys, the Bulger murders and Moors murderers Ian Brady and Myra Hindley. Brady and Hindley tortured, sexually assaulted and murdered several children in between the ages of 10 and 17. A later idea was to compare the mind of an artists with that of a serial killer; comparing the creative with the murderous. Influenced by the British tabloids, he wishes to show the darker side of the human psyche and highlight the paradox between the innocent and the criminal.
This subject caused him a certain amount of conflict over the past year, where RMIT University’s Head of Art Elizabeth Grierson claimed that his subject matter made her feel threatened. She said it “indicates an obsession with murder”. He argued that those paintings helped him get the job at RMIT in the first place. The real debate was due to Grierson’s decision to create budget cuts within the arts department and Cox protesting against it in the form of comments and posts on facebook. He no longer works at that university, though he won a law case she filed against him.
Another series of works Cox has produced covers the inner and exterior view of the adolescent, particularly the male teen. Depicting the drug and alcohol infected nightclub environment is just one path he has travelled down with this idea, with an example being found in his 2007 piece Rave. Using acrylic on canvas, a portrait of a young man looking directly at the viewer is portrayed. Factors such as dimmed lighting, nightclub smoke and mirror ball reflections limit the face’s visibility, partly veiling him to portray not only the atmosphere he’s a part of, but also the perspective he sees the world from at that point in time. The face is uncomfortable to look at; his eyes are bloodshot, their gaze is direct yet nowhere near sober. Though Cox uses images of friends, colleagues, dating sites and party photos, there is still an individuality about them.
Acrylic on Canvas
The other side of the young male that he shows is the male nude. After studying and the Victorian College of the Arts and Deakin University, he is now undertaking a PhD (Art History) at Monash University. His main area of study is the suppression of homoerotism in Western art since the Renaissance. In his art he has addressed the taboo over the depiction of male genitalia.
Cox tends to focus on uncomfortable subjects that stay on the viewer’s mind long after they see it. The idea of depicting the human condition in its extreme forms is an example of this. He includes animals in his art, creating hybrids of animals and humans to form strange, slightly grotesque creatures. The monkey, for instance, is a cousin of the human, and features in many pieces. They fascinate him due to their primitive, unpredictable, often volatile behaviour.
This artist’s practice is made up of drawings, paintings, collage and text. Though he used to use oil paint, he stopped after he had children due to the fumes. He now mainly uses watercolours and acrylics. The main technique he uses in terms of painting is to create different coloured washes that are layered on top of one another. He waits until each layer is dry before applying another, which means he works on several pieces at a time. The complexity of his tone and colour handling is unusual given his choice of mediums; there is depth in his style that is not often seen.
Recently, Cox has been diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a type of blood cancer that can include any kind of lymphoma except for Hodgkin’s. This ordeal has forced him to face his own mortality and relook at subjects he had worked with 30 years ago.
In my opinion, though Cox’s art can be somewhat awkward and confronting to look at, the subject matter is still too irresistible; it’s impossible to not be fascinated by it. After viewing his portrayals of the murder cases I find myself wanting to research each case further; his work encourages curiosity. Somewhat contrasting to this, his techniques are relatively easy-going and pleasant to look at. His use of watercolour is amazing, with the technique of layering being something that can definitely learn from in the future.