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Art

Mr Doodle Is on a Mission to Cover the World with Doodles

Portrait of Mr Doodle in his studio with his 2021 work Lovers Cuddle. Courtesy of Sam Cox.

Portrait of Mr Doodle in his studio with his 2021 work Lovers Cuddle. Courtesy of Sam Cox.

’s approach to artmaking is all but encapsulated in his name: legible, unpretentious, and full of whimsy. The artist, born Sam Cox, has rocketed to fame on the back of his eponymous doodles. Over the course of the past year and change, the 27-year-old artist’s vast, interlocking compositions have propelled from the Instagram explore page to auction houses and beyond. A prime example of Cox’s work, five limited-edition prints from his “Pop Heart” series were released by Pearl Lam Galleries on November 18th and are available now—exclusively on Artsy.
Monochrome mazes, cartoon hieroglyphs, an ever-growing web of squiggles and smiles—Cox’s work can be understood in any number of ways. But for the artist, doodling is first and foremost an escape. “Doodling requires you to free your mind from stressful or crowded thoughts,” Cox told Artsy. “It is like a meditation for me, and that’s why I love it.” The artist describes the construction of his compositions as accumulations of movement and form without any pre-planned direction—an uncorking of the unconscious, a free flow of hand to paper that allows for pure expression. “I don’t know how the final image will look until it’s complete,” Cox said. “It’s a journey each time, and I am taking a walk through the drawing and discovering new things all the time.”
That expansive quality has been a core facet of Cox’s popularity. Though he often works with traditional canvases and prints, Cox is perhaps best known for his immersive, large-scale drawings on everything from walls and clothes to cars, appliances, pianos, and more. The meditative nature of Cox’s process is as much a part of his work’s appeal as the final product—the artist often crafts his compositions for live audiences. Time-lapse videos of Cox at work dressed in doodled suits of his own design have received hundreds of thousands of views on his Instagram page.
It’s not hard to see why: There is something zen-like in watching the artist doodle, a pleasing sort of visual ASMR that comes from seeing one line become many, continuing its path until it is suddenly a mass of blocky faces and bubbly smiles. And it’s not just social media scrollers that have reacted positively to these works. In 2020, Cox was the fifth-most-expensive artist under the age of 40 on the secondary market, with his 2019 work Spring fetching just over $1 million at an auction in Tokyo. So far in 2021, Cox is among the top 10 living artists whose works appeared most frequently at auction. Compared to 2020, his volume of artworks at auction has increased over 60 percent.
Portrait of Mr Doodle at work in his studio, 2021. Courtesy of Sam Cox.

Portrait of Mr Doodle at work in his studio, 2021. Courtesy of Sam Cox.

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For Cox, soothing enjoyment of his work is exactly the intended effect. According to him, his doodles are meant for pure pleasure, the smiles on his characters hopefully serving to bring a smile to passersby. Though he has a clear penchant for artists like and , Cox purposefully positions his work as being outside of political frameworks. “I’m all about just making happy and fun doodles that make people smile,” the artist said.
Cox’s infatuation with notions of expansiveness and immersion is one of the more peculiar aspects of his artistry. He has expressed a desire for his work to cover as much of the planet as possible, and in conversation, he mentions that his doodles could theoretically go on forever. “It is my desire to see vast amounts of space covered with my drawings,” he said. Mr Doodle is not just a concise pen name, after all; it’s an entire alternate persona, one rooted in a fantasy world adjacent to our own.
The concept is relatively simple: Mr Doodle lives in DoodleWorld, where he battles villains—such as Dr Scribble and the Anti-Doodle Squad—who attempt to thwart his mission of covering the world with his drawings. Cox settled on the persona while studying at the University of the West of England, and has been meticulously building and honing his world ever since. In some way, becoming Mr Doodle is as much an escape for Cox as the act of doodling itself.
“When I first became Mr Doodle, I was a lot less confident and there was a bit of a difference between how I’d be on camera and when someone saw me in person,” Cox said. “But over time, there’s gotten to be less and less of a difference, and I just try to be as happy and friendly without being over-the-top. At my exhibitions and shows when I meet fans, I’d like people to leave feeling happy to have met me instead of thinking, ‘Oh, that guy seems so serious.’”
Portrait Mr and Mrs Doodle in the artist’s studio with his 2021 works, from left to right, Lovers Cuddle and Holding Hands. Courtesy of Sam Cox.

Portrait Mr and Mrs Doodle in the artist’s studio with his 2021 works, from left to right, Lovers Cuddle and Holding Hands. Courtesy of Sam Cox.

Portrait Mr and Mrs Doodle in the artist’s studio, 2021. Courtesy of Sam Cox.

Portrait Mr and Mrs Doodle in the artist’s studio, 2021. Courtesy of Sam Cox.

The confidence of slipping into a looser, freer self seems to have paid off for Cox: In addition to his remarkable market boom, the artist has also found his romantic and artistic equal in his wife, whom he refers to as Mrs Doodle. And it seems that companionship has only loosened Cox up more. While planning their wedding, the artist created the “Pop Heart” series—heart-shaped prints inspired by their love, filled with color and cartoon characters snuggling up in reveries of romance. And the inspiration hasn’t stopped there. “Before I met her, I used to paint with black and white in my doodle world,” Cox said of his wife. “But her happiness and passion changed my world; she brought color into my life through her love, and then we reflected that by creating artworks together, where Mrs Doodle would color them.”
As for his growing success, Cox is feeling equally optimistic. “You really have to make a market for yourself,” he said. “I feel like I deal with ‘hype’ fairly well; it doesn’t really affect my practice…I’m really fortunate for it to have happened to me. I don’t take anything for granted.”
Justin Kamp is an Editorial Intern at Artsy.