December 8, 2009

Work on the wild side

Photos by Grier Horner

If you want to take a walk on the wild side, hit the Paul Kasmin Gallery in Manhattan and feast your eyes on Walton Ford's allegorical nature paintings.

It doesn't take you long to realize that the subjects in the Great Barrington artist's monumental watercolors would just as soon feast on you.

As these wolves are doing on the body of a dead soldier killed at the Battle of Borodino in 1812. This is where Napoleon won the battle but lost his quest to conquer Russia because he failed to pursue the retreating Russian Army.

 In this detail from that painting, you can see how brilliantly Ford depicts the wolves' ferocity and aspects of his painting style. The works are watercolor, gouache, pencil and ink on paper. These are not timid paintings either in subject or scope. This one is 60" x 119".

Below is a detail from another painting, The Royal Menagerie at the Tower of London - 3 December 1830.

These are photos of the paintings as you see them in the gallery, glare and reflections included. They were taken December - 179 years and one day after the incident in which two tigers mauled a lion.

My shot of Ford's painting, An Encounter with Du Chaillu, includes not only the marauding gorilla, but refections of me taking the picture and a truck passing by on the street.

Paul du Chaillu was an anthropologist, explorer, hunter and author who confirmed the existence of gorillas on a trip to West Africa during the 1860s.

In a nice twist, the gorilla, not du Chaillu, comes away with the trophy in this painting. And it leaves you wondering if the animal is going to manage to kill itself with the gun despite its twisted barrel.

Ford, who was born in Larchmont, New York, in 1960 is in the art world's bigtime. Museums give him shows. Critics give him raves. Collectors buy his work. The New York Times writes feature articles about him, as do other publications.

In a January 2009 New Yorker profile, he told writer Calvin Tomkins, "Before Fay Wray comes to Skull Island, King Kong isn't doing anything. There's no story until she shows up...What I'm doing, I think, is a sort of cultural history of the way animals live in the human imagination."

He may be giving the human imagination too much credit.

What he's doing is the way animals and events live in his imagination. And he does it powerfully.

Ford's show will be up through December 23. The Paul Kasmin Gallery is located at 293 Tenth Avenue at the corner of 27th Street.

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