At first glance Walton Ford’s large-scale animal watercolour paintings evoke prints by French and British colonial-era illustrators from the 19th century. After closer examination however, they reveal a pictorial universe of complex and disturbing allusions. The various tigers, lions, birds and primates that populate the life-size pictures appear as vivacious protagonists locked in allegorical struggles. The resulting combination of historical fact, natural history inquiry and surreal imaginings give rise to a brilliant ‘Bestiarium’.
Walton Ford was born in 1960 in Larchmont in the state of New York and now lives in the mountains of The Berkshires in Massachusetts. Even from an early age, the various exhibits in the Museum of Natural History in New York held a fascination over him. In particular, Ford embarked on an intimate study of the works of the US American ornithologist and drawer of animals, John James Audubon (1785-1851). Walton Ford’s search for finding analogies between the past and the present day has led to a series of pictures, created from the 1990s onwards, in which he superimposes intricate natural history depictions with current perceptions and critical commentaries, as well as adding quotes from literary sources from past centuries, rendered in the style of the old masters. In his works, which can be seen as satires on political oppression and the exploitation of the environment, he casts doubt on the adage of the ‘ever new’ and the ‘ever better’ that has held sway ever since the Renaissance. At the same time he raises questions on a diverse range of set expectations and established rules in contemporary aesthetics. In glorious colour, his pictures open up a view of a reality that we have long since suppressed or forgotten and, with a haunting strength of imagination, a present day ‘Bestiarium’ unfurls before our eyes.
The artist conscientiously presents himself as an outsider in the contemporary art world through his body of work, which stands out today as truly singular and has already garnered great attention in the USA. For the first time ever, his pictures are now to go on display in Europe.