The terms “loud” and “psychedelic” might more readily bring to mind a rock ’n’ roll sub-genre than an expression of visual art, but both are hallmarks in the recent work of Angela Fox.
The San Antonio artist and educator has developed a recognizable style informed by strong female characters, skulls, cats, scorpions, snakes and mosaic-like motifs. Often blending autobiography and mythology, her visually arresting output can be simultaneously dark and playful — vipers slither through eye sockets, floating heads brandish forked tongues and characters appear engaged in bizarre rituals.
Born in the small South Texas town of Beeville and raised in the San Antonio suburb of Kirby, Fox didn’t consider art seriously until a high school teacher soured her love for theater.
“She really turned me off of theater forever,” Fox recounted.
While studying art and art history at University of the Incarnate Word, Fox worked between drawing, painting, printmaking and mixed media, at times challenging the confines of self-portraiture by presenting an idea of herself as a skeleton. After graduating from UIW in 2004, Fox moved to California to pursue a master’s degree from the San Francisco Art Institute.
Exercises in Self-Defense
Although Fox had applied to the school’s painting department, it was the printmaking department that accepted her. Fortunately, the school allowed for cross-disciplinary studies.
“The first year I did mixed media, because I just really didn’t know what I wanted to do with printmaking,” Fox said.
Eventually, she found her way in printmaking and began exploring the possibilities of making multiples. Inspired in part by the trials of navigating San Francisco and feeling “completely too young” for grad school, she started making woodcuts of female characters — perhaps alternate versions of herself — and assembling her prints in wall installations.
“I think a lot of it was this mentality of self-defense and kind of building a little wall around yourself with like-minded people or like-minded things. … I had never even been there before. … And so, I think it was a little bit of shock. … I had this weird case of imposter syndrome, and so I didn’t feel like I should have been there [or] that I was good enough to be there, because everyone was older and smart and amazing, and I just felt really lost. So, that’s the first thing I thought to do was make art that made me feel OK.”
Devoid of distinguishing characteristics and often decked out in black leggings and pointy black boots, these interchangeable figures birthed a consistent theme in Fox’s work: the concept of tribes, gangs and groups.
“It’s a tribe and a gang and a group, but it’s also that idea of self-portrait — like a person multiplied. Like yourself multiplied, or like your army of yourself.”
After earning her master’s degree, Fox decided to stay in San Francisco and pursue a career in art. Although things were working out well — she landed a decent job at a commercial printing press, found an affordable Russian Hill apartment with views of the Golden Gate Bridge, made artwork in her spare time and even started showing in local galleries — she started questioning her professional trajectory in the city.
“I think I was just concerned about getting the right kinds of experiences under my belt faster,” Fox said. “And it was a little impossible to do it there … If you think about how many MFAs are coming out of the Bay Area, it was really competitive. I was making ends meet, but when I’d come home to visit, I was struck by the things that felt like a luxury to me.”
After working at the printing press for a year, Fox decided to pursue something closer to her heart and closer to home. So, she contacted UIW to inquire about a teaching position.
“They said, ‘We can offer you a drawing class.’ So, I got one drawing class lined up. And so that’s how I started teaching. I came back in mid-2007 and started in the fall.”
Around the same time, Fox started apprenticing for a tattoo artist and practicing her skills on her family.
“I tattooed my parents, myself, my sister and my brother — the whole family,” she said. “I did it for a year and decided that it was not for me, mostly because I wanted to be really, really good at it. I wanted to make my art, and I wanted to teach, and I wanted to be good at all three things … I think I got frustrated that I wasn’t immediately good at it.”
Tattooing may not have been in the cards, but a teaching career was. Now 12 years into the game, Fox currently teaches six classes — art appreciation, color theory, two-dimensional design and three levels of drawing — between UIW and San Antonio College.
The Home Studio
Fox has never been a huge fan of traditional art studios and even avoided them in grad school in favor of working on the floor of her apartment. Fittingly, her current study setup is smack in the middle of her 1920s-era home in Olmos Park Terrace. Efficient, tidy and compact, it comprises only essentials — a desk, chair, lamp, brushes and a bar cart stocked with her longtime medium of choice: gouache, an opaque type of watercolor she favors for its intense hues and velvety finish.
On the wall, a mood board displays images of wild cats, snakes, floral patterns and the tiger-riding Hindu goddess Durga. Mixed among her paints and brushes are a hot-pink Oaxacan alebrije, an intricately decorated Polish Easter egg (a gift from her mother) and a symbol dictionary Fox reads during her downtime.
Typically beginning with a pencil sketch, her paintings develop organically.
“Sometimes when I’m painting, there’s more of an interest in designs and patterns and ornamental use of things more than the actual subject itself,” Fox said. “It’s become super-intuitive. A lot of the time I might have a feeling that I’m going for. Everything I’m working on now, I want to be super loud and almost psychedelic in colors, so that’s kind of the palette that I’ll reach for. … I’m really trying to push it into something that’s overly ornamental, or overly stimulating as far as color goes.”
Despite a creative process she likens to stream of consciousness, Fox’s output is cohesive, based not only on her eye-popping palette but the visual vocabulary she’s developed over the years.
“I use snakes a lot because they’re feared, but they’re also positive symbols of regeneration and growth,” she explained. “But they’re also about destruction. … Scorpions are about chaos, destruction and evil. I like putting all these heavily loaded powerful symbols in there.”
Highlights and On the Horizon
Since her return to San Antonio, Fox has blipped the Current
’s radar on several occasions. One of her signature girl gangs landed on our cover in 2014 in conjunction with the Blue Star Contemporary exhibition “Spatial Planes.” We also geeked out over her cultish zine Enter the Snake Clan in 2016 and previewed her Gravelmouth Gallery exhibition “Heart of a Snake” in 2017.
Last year, Fox’s visibility grew considerably when Gravelmouth proprietor David “Shek” Vega tasked her with translating her typically small-scale work to two 15-foot pillars underneath I-35 as part of the San Antonio Street Art Initiative.
“I was terrified and nervous,” Fox said. “[But] it ended being a lot of fun … I liked being on the lift for the first time — you’re up there shaking and painting and it’s terrifying. That was some of the most fun I’ve ever had painting, because it was so physical.”
Fresh off a Los Angeles exhibition curated by Australian artist and kindred spirit Svetlana Shigroff, Fox is in the process of preparing for an October 2020 solo show at Freight Gallery. Although she says she’s “petrified” by the idea of filling the large gallery, she seems to be on the right track.
“I’m happy with where I think I want to go … I want to do a really big series of super, super, super colorful ornamental pattern-oriented work. Where it’s just really based on vision, like the idea of seeing the colors, and seeing the patterns, so it’s really like eyeball-oriented.”
For more about Angela Fox, visit angelafox.net or follow her on Instagram @angelafoxart
Stay on top of San Antonio news and views. Sign up for our Weekly Headlines Newsletter.