In this new exhibition from London-based artist and illustrator, Neal Fox, the hierarchies of normality are subverted, drawing upon the burlesque, carnival vibe of the Roman festival of Saturn that gives the show its title. Camberwell alumni and co-founder of art collective, Le Gun, Neal's work teeters on the psychedelic side of pop culture citing William Burroughs as an influence alongside cartoonist Robert Crumb. With several solo exhibitions at Daniel Blau Gallery under his belt, Neal has also exhibited works alongside Dazed favourites, Damien Hirst and Sarah Lucas.
Dazed caught up with Neal in the final weeks of his exhibition to talk Burroughs, drugs and Le Gun.
Dazed Digital: Why the title Saturnalia?
Neal Fox: Saturnalia was an ancient Roman Festival where the slaves became rulers for a day. It's a similar idea to the medieval Feast of Fools. It relates loosely to a lot of the work in the show because I like the themes of liberation through humour and chaos and the carnivalesque, and the subversion of hierarchies. All my drawings are about the escape from the normal. A lot of them are quite psychedelic which some people see as me glorifying drugs, but for me it's more about the idea of the world turned upside down... I think the drawings make drugs look pretty scary most of the time. For example "The Cosmic Rebirth of Archibald Leach" is based around how Cary Grant did loads of acid while he was filming "North by Northwest", and thought he was a giant penis shooting into outer space. Another picture has adolescent Putti rioting in an English highstreet and was inspired by a conversation I read between William Burroughs and David Bowie talking about "A Clockwork Orange".
DD: You cite William S. Burroughs as an inspiration - in what way?
Neal Fox: My mum and dad were really into the Beats, I'm named after Neal Cassady, and my grandad who is in most of my drawings first published, Junky. Like most of the people I like to draw Burroughs was a total iconoclast who saw the world in a unique way. I like the way he approached really far out ideas in a matter-of-fact way, like a scientist, similar to J G Ballard. You can imagine him in his room in Tangiers typing Naked Lunch as if it was total fact and he was filing a report for a secret agency. Some people see the Beats as a cult of personality you should only be in to when you're a teenager and grow out of but I'm a romantic, I love that stuff.
DD: Could you tell us a bit about your art collective, Le Gun?
Neal Fox: Meeting the other members from Le Gun at the RCA ten years ago was one of the best things that's happened to me. There was unusual work going on, very eccentric drawing and we decided to try and publish a magazine which got it out there. We started drawing together at parties to fund our magazine and its grown out of that. We drink together and draw together - a lot of people think our drawings are done by one person but its five of us us working together. Apart from the magazine our main thing these days is trying to take drawings into three dimensions. We've just launched a new online shop where people can buy a lot of the things we've made over the years.
DD: What's next for you?
Neal Fox: The next Le Gun show will be at the same gallery as mine, Daniel Blau in Hoxton square in December. I am working on a big mural at Russel Norman's new pub in Soho, the Ape and Bird, it's loosely modelled on the Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch and features loads of Soho characters past and present being sucked into a vortex of debauchery.
Saturnalia opened earlier this month at Daniel Blau gallery and runs until next week.
Follow Sian Dolding on Twitter here @SianDolding