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Charlotte’s Connection to a ‘Living, Breathing Part of Art History’by Page Leggett on December 7, 2021
Consider Connie Fox
Connie Fox is a “living, breathing part of art history,” said her grandson, Charlotte’s Levin Chaskey, who is also her manager. With a team of creatives assisting, he’s bringing her work – from the present day all the way back to the 1940s – to a whole new audience.
Why does an artist born in Colorado, trained in southern California and who’s made the Hamptons her home for decades matter to people in Charlotte?
Because she’s 96-year-old Connie Fox, who’s still painting, and her grandson, Levin Chaskey, is an artist (filmmaker, video editor, cinematographer and producer) in his own right … and a Charlottean. Chaskey has been managing her catalog and new work since 2018.
Fox’s work is represented in collections throughout the Carolinas – Duke Energy Corporation; the Greenville Museum of Art in Greenville, N.C.; Weatherspoon Art Gallery, University of North Carolina, Greensboro, N.C. – and that predates Chaskey’s 2013 move to Charlotte to open Charlotte Star Room with his wife, Alexis Jo Bruce.
Her work is also in the collections of Goldman, Sachs & Co. and Siemens Corporation in New York, the Telfair Museum of Art in Savannah, Georgia; the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque; the University of Florida in Gainesville and too many more prestigious places to list.
A Student Who Became a Master
Fox painted with and was influenced by Elaine de Kooning “Elaine was her teacher at the University of New Mexico,” Chaskey said. “They formed a bond – a student/mentor bond – that lasted for Elaine’s whole life. Elaine encouraged Connie to move to East Hampton. They were literally neighbors. There was a golden era of artists relocating to the Hamptons.”
A bike trip Fox took more than 70 years ago heavily influenced her work.
“In 1950, Connie and two friends took off on a 1,000-mile bicycle trip through Europe, riding from Rotterdam north through Scandinavia, then south to Italy, painting and photographing along the way,” reads the bio by Joyce Beckenstein on conniefoxpaintings.com. “When she returned, she found an art world bursting with youthful vitality, in New York, California and New Mexico, where she went for her Master’s Degree.”
The paintings she created from that memorable cycling trip feel as fresh today as when she painted them, according to Trip Patterson of Tripoli Gallery in Wainscott, New York. Patterson and Chaskey have been friends since they were kids (and he’s known Fox that long, too) – but Patterson is showing Fox’s work for the first time.
“As long as I’ve known her – since I was a young kid – she’s been part of this community,” he said. “I’ve never exhibited her work, so it’s really fun to get to do that now. I had a studio visit with her a few months ago. And it was right around the time I was brainstorming for the 17th annual Thanksgiving collective. I was drawn to these landscape paintings she created in the ’70s that were inspired from a bike ride she had.”
Fox Was There for the Dawn of Surrealism
Fox lived what most of the rest of us have only read about in history books. She grew up in the Dust Bowl era, was a student during World War II and was a working artist in California and New Mexico during the early days of surrealism. All those experiences are reflected in her work.
And Chaskey knows all her stories.
Fox’s grandson/manager knows her so well, he can answer questions for her. (“I think we’re kindred spirits,” Chaskey said of his grandmother/client. “We’ve always felt connected.”) In a Zoom interview, I asked how Fox would describe her style.
Chaskey responded: “Connie cares a lot about what the viewer sees. That’s one of her hallmarks. But she’s not one to put too much of her own meaning out there for people to analyze. She wants to see what they think. Everyone has their own interpretation.”
“Her style was inspired by some of the abstract expressionist greats from the mid-20th century,” Chaskey continued. “Avant garde and surrealism are also big influences. So, there’s a lot going on in her paintings – a lot of things you could put meaning to as a viewer – but she’s not going to overtly really give you anything.”
Fox smiled and nodded at the response.
Following Her Own Vision
Fox’s late husband was perhaps as famous as she is. But Chaskey said neither Connie Fox nor her spouse, William King, ever wanted to be viewed as having influence over the other’s work. They built their bodies of work alongside one another, but each had their own distinct styles and artistic viewpoints. While their proximity to one another was closer than most, their experiences echoed that of the creative community of the Hamptons – groundbreaking artists pursuing their individual passions in a shared space.
“William King got that question so many times – How has your work influenced each other? – and he and Connie always avoided the question,” said Chaskey. “They would always say, ‘We do our own thing, basically.’ They very much had their own visions and focuses, and they would casually reference each other and see what the other was up to … but they really had their own worlds.”
Patterson of Tripoli Gallery said that’s not unusual.
“Strong artists have to maintain their own independence,” he said. Still, he can see inspiration in Fox’s work from her mentor/friend, Elaine de Kooning. “I even see Helen Frankenthaler and Willem de Kooning, too, but I think she’s really maintained her own dialect and her own vision.”
Still Painting, Still Showing
Fox’s assistant, Shelley Lichtenstein, joined us on the Zoom interview, and told me about Fox’s routine in the studio these days. “We’re doing smaller canvases rather than very large ones which she’s known for. She absolutely loves to paint. It’s in her soul.”
Lichtenstein (no relation to American artist Roy Lichtenstein, in case you’re wondering) mixes paints for Fox, but Fox paints her canvases herself.
“She gets up, and we have breakfast,” Lichtenstein said. “And then the morning is her best time to paint.”
Even beyond her painting, Fox remains active. She’s part of a meditation group. She eats healthfully, studies Eastern medicine and did Tai Chi for many years. “She can do squats,” Chaskey said. “The physical therapist is just in awe of watching what she can do.”
A Life Dedicated to Art Then & Now
Fox’s work is in prominent corporate and private collections, as well as museums and galleries, but it’s not her prestige that prompted Patterson to include her in his Thanksgiving show.
“I think society gets a little bit confused about what it means to be an accomplished artist,” he said. “A lot of times people think it is to sell for a certain price point; that has nothing to do with it. An accomplished artist is someone that can dedicate their life [to art] and still be painting at 96 like Connie.”
“I’m showing works from that bike ride,” Patterson said. “They’re loose and abstract and beautiful, but they really fit into this exact thing that I’m looking for, and that’s finding a place – whether it’s an external place or internal place – but finding that place and then having everything else unfold after you get to that place.”
“Sometimes, you might be looking for a place that doesn’t exist and the reason why it doesn’t exist is because you haven’t found it within.”
“I never show things depending on whether they’re going to appeal to my clients or not,” Patterson continued. “That’s not why I show art. I show art because I feel that it came from an authentic and sincere place. And then after that, I have to have a connection with the artist, and when I’m in their presence, I feel very gifted and lucky. A big part of whether I want to show their work or not is how I feel when I’m around them.”
Living In (and Sharing) the Moment
Patterson says Fox lives in the moment. And that living in the now shows up in her work.
“I get the feeling that, when she was working on these, she wasn’t paying attention to time,” he said. “She’s lost in the world that she’s painting, you know?”
These paintings transcend time and trends, the gallerist said.
Her grandson couldn’t agree more.
“She’s always pushed herself,” Chaskey said of Fox. “She’s always reinvented herself. But you always know it’s a Connie Fox somehow. She’s a living, breathing piece of art history.”
“Art,” Chaskey said, “has given Connie everything. It’s the lens through which she views life.”
More Brush Strokes of Fox’s Life
For more on Connie Fox, watch the video Levin Chaskey filmed in her studio in 2014.