‘Walton Ford: Barbary’
“Looking at the paintings of Walton Ford in a book, you might mistake them for the watercolors of a nineteenth-century naturalist,” writes Lucy Jakub. “They are annotated in longhand script, and yellowed at the edges as if stained by time and voyage. […] Ford is never interested merely in the natural world, but in the way humans have documented, exploited, and repurposed it, and how these species have been mythologized, even as most of them have disappeared from the wild. Walton Ford makes paintings of paintings of animals.
His new series “Barbary,” on display at Kasmin’s new gallery in Chelsea, is a study of the Barbary lion. Each painting in the series is based on an encounter, historical or imagined, between lions and people. Continuing a long preoccupation of Ford’s, these often have an overt anti-colonialist and anti-imperialist edge that is poignantly mirrored in the dynamic between humans and their animal conquests. Ford punctures Jean-Léon Gérôme’s sensational depictions of the Venatio in the Circus Maximus with MVNERA, which shows a lion cowering in the elevator shaft that brought animals into the arena. Eugène Delacroix, another artist whose paintings brought an Orientalist fascination to the cultures and wildlife of Northern Africa, gets his due as well.
In “Barbary” Ford plays with light and atmosphere, no longer trying to create the illusion of an archived image; the watercolors are more like the frescoes he studied as an art student in Rome, and are some of his most realistic and immersive images yet. In the cavernous gallery, the five foregrounded lions are luminous and larger than life-size—suddenly, you realize you’re surrounded. In these scenes, Ford has stepped out of the perspective of the mythologizing human and into the experience of the lion, trying to think as an animal that’s been threatened, captured, or brought to an unfamiliar environment might. Deliberately, the demeanors of his lions—anxious, contemplative, wary, curious—are antipodes of the qualities we associate with large predators.”
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