Vancouver Mural Festival: The medium isn't the message of BK Foxx's hyperrealistic images
New York City–based street artist BK Foxx wholeheartedly prioritizes content over aesthetics. As such, she holds a belief that would make media theorist Marshall McLuhan roll over in his grave. “For me, the medium is not the message,” Foxx states by phone. “I really want you to look at something and say, ‘Obviously, it took someone a lot of time and energy to put that there, and make it look good. And even if I don’t see it at first, there must be more to interpret from it.’ ”
A self-taught artist who painted her first mural a mere five years ago, Foxx—whose alias is derived from her given name’s initials and the fox, an animal she admires for its clever, cunning traits—has since risen to the ranks of North America’s most prolific graffitists. Working exclusively with spray paint, she’s installed large-scale works on buildings all over her adopted home of New York City, and in France, Spain, and beyond, many of the hyperrealistic images serving as both art and social commentary.
A piece titled Rise Up the Dirt, completed in Kiev, Ukraine, shows a pair of weathered hands protecting a single daisy amid a concrete jumble of abandoned screws, batteries, and tools—a reminder that life finds a way to bloom even in the darkest of times. Meanwhile, Sick, installed in Brooklyn, depicts a bloody Robert de Niro from the 1976 film Taxi Driver, his almost clean-shaven head surrounded by cities and places in the U.S.—Orlando, Las Vegas, and so on—where mass shootings have occurred in recent years. That one speaks for itself. “It’s really about what it says more than anything else,” notes Foxx. “Every once in a while I’ll do something for fun or because it looks cool or whatever, but most of the time, I’m trying to say something.”
The 29-year-old with no formal art training, who picked up a spray can after discovering an abandoned building that was tagged with words and images near her place in New York, is also known for her many portrayals of wildlife. Canines, birds, and bears—of the real and teddy variety—have all featured in Foxx’s work, though she maintains that, while she is passionate about animal rights, there are a multitude of causes she cares deeply about. She begins her creative process by either surveying a wall to determine a message that’s relevant for the surrounding ’hood, or simply consulting a running catalogue of subjects or messages she’d like to convey.
“I walk around in the world and I see so much and think, ‘This is fucked-up,’ ” says Foxx, who’ll be painting the site at 2725 Main Street as part of the Vancouver Mural Festival this week. “I have a list of things like that and I try to address them as I go. And every once in a while, I’ll be like, ‘This would be the perfect time, this would be the perfect place to say this thing about this.’ ”
Foxx hopes to bring some of that acute sensibility to Vancouver, where she wants her larger-than-life canvas to spark a conversation—any sort of conversation—among passersby. “Amid all the craziness of the day, if someone is like, ‘This caught my attention,’ ” she says, “then I’m like, ‘Okay, I’m doing an okay job.’ ”More