WILD KINGDOM | WALTON FORD’S “WATERCOLORS” AT PAUL KASMIN, NYC

June 10, 2014  |  art

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In his newest show of large-scale allegorical paintings at Paul Kasmin Gallery, artist Walton Ford continues to explore the visual and narrative scope of traditional natural history painting with his monumental watercolors, chronicling encounters between human culture and the natural world. Several pieces in this exhibition will expand upon Ford's longstanding practice of incorporating written marginalia in his work, and feature for the first time musings penned by the artist from the perspective of his animal subjects.

As in his previous work, Ford draws upon his ongoing natural history research, mining literary sources, folklore and historical anecdotes for inspiration and imagery. The painting Rhyndacus (2014) is derived from an account in Aelian’s De Natura Animalium. This ancient Roman miscellany of the natural world briefly mentions an impossibly large, sixty-foot serpent inhabiting Phrygia (present day Turkey) that was said to magically lure prey into its open maw. Ford has vividly realized the imaginary snake in a strikingly detailed portrait towering nearly 10 feet tall. By depicting native Turkish flora and fauna, Ford conjures a monstrously majestic Ancient Roman vision of the East.

In another work, The Graf Zeppelin (2014), Ford engages the story of Susie, the first female gorilla brought to the United States. She arrived in New York in 1929, having crossed the Atlantic in a first class cabin aboard the German airship. Ford depicts Susie mid-flight and has written marginalia from her point of view, carefully channeling her observations and state of mind.

A third recent work, Windsor, May 1829 (2014), focuses on a formidable mandrill named “Happy Jerry” who lived in Edward Cross’s menagerie in London during the early nineteenth century. In his 1870 book Heads and Tales, Adam White describes Happy Jerry sitting at table, drinking port, smoking a clay pipe and dining with King George IV. Ford, again through meticulous research, recreates this unusual luncheon at Windsor. As he did with Susie, Ford incorporates Happy Jerry’s postprandial thoughts and sensations in the watercolor, writing from the primate’s point of view. 

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Master & Serpent: Walton Ford is a snake charmer

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