Contrary to Expectations: Notes on surrealism in England with an overview of some of the current practitioners
Michael Richardson and Barbara Heins 1966
extracts from pages 8 - 10
Participating in surrealism since 1991, the South African artist Kathleen Fox is the most recent addition to this list. Informed by a profound sense of the interplay between identity and exile, Fox’s work lies in a margin between cultures.
The Greek legend of the lotus eater or lotophagi, who ate the fruit of the lotus tree and forgot friends and homes, seems particularly appropriate as an image of the artist’s journey towards recovering an identity after having cut her ties with her native land. Having developed a highly personal mythology that exude a sub-aquatic, floating quality, her journey, like Odysseus when he was led to the land of lotophagi, is often determined by accident, drifting towards discovery and insight. The viewer is faced with the record of a journey into the depths of her imagination and personal history. Defying traditional pictorial conventions, the visual record unveils an elusive other that lurks beneath the surface of received concepts of reality.
Evidently the eye is invited to scan the picture to discover not only unfolding ichnographical details,but to make an ever deeper exploration of a cultural conflict that is ultimately, of existential significance. However, Fox’s carefully selected hints and fragments from Western and African culture interwoven with her personal fears, dreams and associations, confound any attempt to impose a conclusive reading. The variety of different elements from different cultures, myths and personal experience entice us into a semantic labyrinth, a morbid, though often erotic and sometimes unexpectedly impish cluster of images and scenarios. While the conflict between white and black Africa constitutes an identifiable subtext, the mythic, religious and ritual connotations of individual canvases are too elusive to be simply classified and labelled. By drawing on personal vision and a process of cultural syncretism, the artist succeeds in conveying a more universal, albeit intuitive message.
.....Fox was from an early age enchanted by South African township music with an immediacy and familiarity that was potent. In many ways, her relation to this music is perhaps the determining feature in her sensibility.
The tension in Fox’s work plays on this strange conjunction; a double estrangement (mentally, from white South African culture: physically, from direct participation in black African culture) led to an appreciation of and a certain security of being in recognition of this marginality. That is, her identity seems to be founded in the margins, neither of one place nor another but in the gap between. And it is in this appreciation of the value of the margin that her involvement in surrealism seems to be situated.