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Walton Ford at Paul Kasmin
Art in America, Oct, 2005 by Michael Amy

Walton Ford specializes in the depiction of extinct or endangered animals. His particular interest in birds, his meticulous draftsmanship and his preferred medium of watercolor, ink and gouache on paper bring to mind the work of John James Audubon--an artist Ford has been infatuated with since his youth. Ford obtains the ideas for his paintings and prints, which always have a hint of the surreal, from published accounts and pre-existing images in early nature books. His animals, though lifelike, seem imbued with the psychology of humans, as his works touch upon the confrontation between culture and nature, order and chaos.

Le Jardin (2005) is a 16-foot-wide horizontal triptych composed of vertical sheets. Inspired by a 19th-century sketch by the painter George Catlin, it shows a monumental bison panting at the center foreground, blood dripping from its tongue, encircled by a horde of white wolves. The bison has evidently attacked one of the wolves, which lies nearby, supine and mortally injured. This scene from the American West achieves an aura of mystery by being transposed to a formal European garden, with immaculately cut lawns and geometrically shaped evergreens in the distance. It takes place on a raised terrace, giving the episode a theatrical effect that is heightened by the low horizon line, magnifying the animals' scale. Here, as elsewhere, Ford stains the margins of the sheets to give them an aged appearance, as if these were the recovered works of an 18th- or 19th-century naturalist whose persona he has adopted. His realist style and careful craftsmanship indeed hark back to that earlier age; in this historical turn, Ford demonstrates an affinity to slightly reactionary contemporaries such as John Currin and Alexis Rockman, the latter himself an animalier.

The source for Delirium (2004) is Audubon's description of the capture of a golden eagle. Attempting to kill the trapped creature, Audubon tried to smoke it to death. In this work, filled with vigorous movement, the eagle rises with its wings spread across the width of the sheet, exhaling smoke as it drags a metal trap clamped to its talon and tied to a broken branch. A tiny figure--apparently Audubon--has passed out on the snow in the bottom left corner. Suggesting the struggle between nature and man's will to dominate it, the painting depicts an episode in which nature has briefly triumphed.

The exhibition also included six large, six-color etchings with aquatint and drypoint, the labor-intensive result of seven years' work. They focus on the realm of birds and were meant to evoke the scale of Audubon's Birds of America. Ford is painfully aware of the fact that the natural environment known to Audubon has taken a turn for the worse. Fashioning scenes of cruelty and violence with a degree of irony, Ford avoids romanticizing his subjects even as he evokes the wondrous creatures we are slowly wiping out.

COPYRIGHT 2005 Brant Publications, Inc.
COPYRIGHT 2005 Gale Group

Bibliography for "Walton Ford at Paul Kasmin"
Michael Amy "Walton Ford at Paul Kasmin". Art in America. Oct 2005. FindArticles.com. 15 Sep. 2006. http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1248/is_9_93/ai_n15725230


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