Walton Ford’s expansive watercolor paintings appropriate the informative detail and narrative scope of traditional natural history art only to subvert its conventions. Ford draws on his extensive research into disparate visual and written sources, including naturalists’ illustrations and dioramas, scientific field studies, explorers’ accounts, and zookeepers’ manuals, as well as fables and mythology, historical art, and Hollywood movies. Imaginatively interpreting events rooted in these materials, he frequently inscribes the paintings with marginal texts that provide additional glosses of meaning. Representing touchpoints of cultural and natural history, he alludes to colonialism, extinction, and the ecological consequences of the Anthropocene epoch, tempering his works’ violence, tragedy, and eulogies for the natural world with moments of wit and satire.
Ford was born in 1960 and grew up in the Hudson Valley, New York. Today, he lives and works in New York City. He attended the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, graduating in 1982.
In the early 1990s, Ford began incorporating the imagery of natural history illustration into his work. This approach was catalyzed in 1994 when he spent several months in India and began painting indigenous birds while thinking about the impact of global colonialism, leading him to a sustained reflection on wildlife and historical allegory that would form the core of his project.
Walton Ford: Assuming an Animal Form
Walton Ford narrates the histories and myths behind two of his newest paintings.
Gagosian Quarterly Talks
Walton Ford and Irving Blum
Walton Ford sat down with legendary art dealer Irving Blum at Gagosian Beverly Hills to discuss his latest exhibition, Calafia.
King of the Jungle
Walton Ford’s most recent paintings focus on the history of California through fantastical interpretations of humanity and its encounters with animal life.
A Bubble in the Lake
In this video produced by the Louisiana Channel for the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebaek, Denmark, Walton Ford talks about his challenging childhood and upbringing, his early appreciation of nature, and his endless love of large watercolors. Ford was interviewed by Marc-Christoph Wagner in June 2023 in the artist’s studios in New York City and Berkshire County, Massachusetts.
Still from “Walton Ford: A Bubble in the Lake”
Walton Ford Selects
November 17–22, 2023
Metrograph, New York
Walton Ford has curated a selection of films as part of a series copresented by Gagosian and Metrograph. The program features five films that explore extreme psychological states in their storylines and use pioneering and sometimes unconventional acting and cinematographic techniques to achieve the result. Ford explains, “These films dive deep into characters in ways that are sometimes harrowing and always completely surprising. None of these films are cliché or pat, and all share an unorthodox style or method. As a narrative painter, I seek to explore subjects and tell stories in this way.”
Featured films include
At Land (1944, directed by Maya Deren)
Heat Lightning (1934, directed by Mervyn LeRoy)
Meshes of the Afternoon (1943, directed by Maya Deren and Alexandr Hackenschmied)
Naked (1993, directed by Mike Leigh)
The Sword of Doom (1966, directed by Kihachi Okamoto)
Still from The Sword of Doom (1966), directed by Kihachi Okamoto
Screening and Talk
Friday, November 17, 2023, 8pm
Metrograph, New York
Join Walton Ford and designer and actor Waris Ahluwalia for a conversation and screening on the occasion of Walton Ford Selects, a film program curated by the artist as part of a series copresented by Gagosian and Metrograph. The pair will discuss how the selected films share an unorthodox style or method and delve into characters in ways that are sometimes harrowing and always surprising. After the talk, a trio of films—Heat Lightning (1934), Meshes of the Afternoon (1943), and At Land (1944)—will be screened.
Still from Heat Lightning (1934), directed by Mervyn LeRoy
Walton Ford in
Symbiosis: Part 1
June 10–July 24, 2022
Berkshire Botanical Garden, Stockbridge, Massachusetts
Aiming to aesthetically incorporate artworks into the Berkshire Botanical Garden, Symbiosis sites works both outdoors within in the landscape and indoors in the Leonhardt Galleries. The exhibition focuses on the interaction between two organisms that mutually benefit each other, while also speaking in a greater sense about the interconnectivity of all living things. Work by Walton Ford is included.
Walton Ford, Study for Distinguished Stranger, 2022 © Walton Ford
Book of Beasts
The Bestiary in the Medieval World
May 14–August 18, 2019
Getty Center, Los Angeles
This exhibition is inspired by The Bestiary, a popular medieval book that describes the beasts of the world with vibrant and fascinating images. With over one hundred works on display, this major loan exhibition transports visitors into the world of the medieval bestiary. Work by Walton Ford and Damien Hirst is included.
Walton Ford, Grifo de California, 2017 © Walton Ford. Photo: Christopher Burke