BENTONVILLE, ARK.- Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art
has acquired a major new work by Walton Ford, an artist winning international acclaim for his highly detailed, monumental watercolors of exotic birds, reptiles and mammals. In The Island, Ford presents a writhing pyramidal mass of Tasmanian wolves (thylacines) grappling with each other and a few doomed lambs. The violent extermination of the thylacines, which were hunted to extinction in the early 20th century, calls into question who is hunter and hunted in this savage tableau.
"Thylacines were mysterious terrifying phantoms in the minds of Tasmanian settlers," Walton Ford said via email. "I wanted to create a delirious image that suggested the thylacine's doom. The painting could be interpreted as the hallucination of either the man or the beast."
Chris Crosman, chief curator for Crystal Bridges, describes the 8-feet-high by 11 ½-feet-long triptych as a "tour de force" that is considered to be Ford's largest and most ambitious work to date.
"The Island works on a number of different levels, from the sheer technical virtuosity of producing a watercolor at this scale to the seductive way he composes these things and the psychological and social content - all are wrapped up together in a way that's completely unique to his sensibility," Crosman said. "Ford's work is really going to be one of the sleeper experiences when people come to the museum. When you see his paintings in the flesh they just blow your mind . . . there's so much to see."
European audiences will have the opportunity to study The Island this year, as it is included in the exhibition Walton Ford, on display at the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin January 23 - May 24 and at the Albertina Museum in Vienna June 18 - October 18, 2010. Walton Ford's creation of The Island was discussed and illustrated as a work-in-progress in a January 2009 New Yorker profile of the artist by Calvin Tomkins.
Born and raised in Larchmont, N.Y., Walton Ford studied filmmaking and painting at the Rhode Island School of Design and produced landscapes on wood panels early in his career. He hit his stride in the 1990s with large watercolors formally inspired by John James Audubon and earlier scientific and naturalist illustrators, but newly invested with psychological content entirely his own. Ford also cites Gericault, Delacroix, Goya, Bosch and Homer as influences on his work.
Crystal Bridges is one of a select group of museums to have acquired work by Ford. To date, his work is included in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum, both in New York City, and the Smithsonian Museum of American Art in Washington, D.C., among other institutions.