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Walton Ford (b. 1960)
Walton Ford (b. 1960)

Anthroponosis - 1975

Details
Walton Ford (b. 1960)
Anthroponosis - 1975
titled 'Anthroponosis--1975' (upper right); signed with initials 'W.F.' (lower left)
gouache on paper
96 x 60 in. (243.8 x 152.4 cm.)
Painted in 2013.
Provenance
Gift of the artist, Courtesy of Paul Kasmin, Gallery

Lot Essay

Walton Ford's beautiful rendition of a majestic Orangutan is an exquisite example of the artist's unique fusing of history, nature and man's constantly changing relationship with both. Channelling the spirit of pioneering Victorian explorers such as the Englishman Sir Richard Francis Burton (whose adventures in throughout Africa and Asia during the nineteenth century enraptured much of Victorian society) through the lens of modern cultural powerhouses such National Geographic, Ford's paintings chart the evolving role that animals have in human culture over the last two centuries.

In Anthroponosis--1975 (a title taken from the process by which animals contract human diseases) Ford takes as his subject the Orangutan, one of the most recognizable and most loved of the of the Great Apes and an animal whose Malay name translates into English as 'Person of the Forest'. The animal's splendor and quiet dignity is displayed in the careful rendering of the animal's face and fur, all painted in meticulous detail after Ford has spent many hours studying physical examples of the animals contained in the old-fashioned dioramas housed in places such as New York's American Museum of Natural History. The painting's historical references refer back to the days of the nineteenth century explorers and their bravado enhanced stories of these 'gentle giants' carrying off the white women into the jungle for their own sexual satisfaction-a mythology that continued into the twentieth century and reached its zenith with Fay Ray's epic battle with King Kong atop the Empire State Building.

However, instead of simply repeating an already acknowledged historical allegory, Ford advances the narrative by including the figure of a naked woman emerging from the background. Ford says this figure refers to the phenomenon of the female primatologist such as Jane Goodall and Diane Fossey, whose rise to media prominence in the 1970s introduced a whole new reading of the relationship between apes and humans. Images of maternal figure of the female scientist cradling an abandoned infant primate became something of a sensation in the 1970s and introduced a whole new narrative to the human/animal dynamic.

Resolutely beautiful but containing a deep intellectual curiosity, Ford's paintings investigate the role of animals in human culture, and how that has changed over time. In a world obsesses with celebrity, Ford's work celebrates beauty of a different kind. "God, you know, look at what's happening in the world," the artist once said, "Is that your preoccupation: Celebrity, glamour and pornography? Is that really what we're going to go down in flames celebrating? I am less interested in engaging issues of contemporary theory or something. My work reacts to the history of natural history and the history of people's interactions with animals and other cultures and things like that. And our way of remembering natural history events and creatures that are now extinct" (W. Ford, interviewed in Artforum, November, 2007)

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