Monday, May 5, 2008

Appropriation of beasts by the genius Walton Ford...

O Where to begin with Walton Ford... How about the Bess Cutler Gallery in New York circa 1990? That's where my brother and I first saw his work and shared a joint aesthetic explosion that's still combusting. Ford's meticulously rendered mega-sized watercolors speak to themes of colonialism, naturalism, and more specifically, the sensationally decadent and often violent cultural history of humans and animals.

Though he has loved and thought about animals for much of his life, Ford is no latte sipping PETA-registered animal activist. He has hunted animals and been bored by their lazing in zoo enclosures. Ultimately, his work is far more personal than political. He wrestles with the imagined animal - especially as it embodies his perceptions of historical characters such as John James Audubon or Sir Richard Burton - visionary, complex people whose lives were directly related to the nature, aesthetics, and power-struggles of their day.

Ford's paintings are inspired by jolting passages he finds in forgotten old books and newspaper articles. The peculiar animal anecdote of yore is an allegorical tool he uses to trigger electrical storms in between the visual and literary poles of his imagination. The paintings ensue from these psychic tempests for us to unscramble. Each one is pregnant with information. Clues and cues and things to Google.

I love Ford's ability to capture an animal's physicality in ways that depart just slightly from a perfect biological taxonomy. His work is fueled by the enormous power of the imagined animal, the distorted report from an out-of-breath eye-witness, the nightmare, not the facts of an actual one. This feat taps the very core of this site.

You'll be seeing lots of Walton Ford round these parts. He's the official human mascot of the Hypnogogic Zoo.

(detail of "Than Hoang" by Walton Ford)

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