Saturday, February 19, 2011

Walton Ford

Here in Vienna, there was a Walton Ford exhibit at the Albertina museum last year. He paints animals in an Auduban style, so watercolor, but really big! Some are more than 8 feet across. I got my kids to see the exhibit, and although there are some gruesome details in his paintings, my kids learned to really enjoy Walton Ford's paintings. He starts his paintings, he says, by reading something written down by a 19th century naturalist. So each painting has a story of sorts: a polar bear sifting about the human detrius (cards, candlestick, glass and pot) of a polar ship wreak, shown in distant background.

Or a panther escaped from a zoo and roaming the swiss alps, or a "domesticated" monkey, choking to death a pet parrot, while looking over his shoulder (at you the viewer) with a guilty, "who me?" look on his face.

The panther painting was exhibited in the royal palace rooms of the Albertina. It fit in perfectly as the story almost comes from the same era as the room (18th century). You could imaging the stuffy nobility milling about the room taking in the highly idealized pictures of a cavalry charge, or a nude nymph at a pool, and then coming across this lurking panther!

There is a really good story about the eagle painting above: a friend of James Auduban gave him an eagle, which Mr. Auduban painted from life for a couple of days. Then he needed to kill the bird and have it stuffed. He tried to suffocate the bird by putting it's cage in a closet and set a smoking fire below. A day later the bird was still alive, and just stared at Mr. Auduban. Mr. Auduban then put sulphur in the fire to make the smoke more noxious, he closed the closet door, but the sulphur smell filled the whole house, a tortuous day later he checked the cage again, and there was the eagle, still alive, staring out of the smoky, devilish fumes, as if to accuse Mr. Auduban. He then took a thin, stiff wire and poked it through the eagle's heart. It died. Mr. Ford choose to rewrite the story by showing the eagle flying free with broken shackles still on his claws, and smoke billowing from his nostrils. It's a super great image and a super great re-invention (or revenge) of the original story.

Sometimes Walton Ford's paintings verge into the extreme and bizarre, like: a huge writhing mountain of tasmanian tigers attacking sheep (the tasmanian tiger is more like a dog or wolf then a tiger). This painting has a local twist as the tasmanian tiger was long since hunted to extinction, but at the Naturhistorischemuseum they have a stuffed "tiger". Walton Ford came to the museum to make sketches from the figure. Cool, eh!

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