Compare.Looking at the two images on the screenyou might think that they were both madeby the same artist.They are not. The imageon the left is by John James Audubon, andthe image on the right is by Walton Ford.Audubon is famous for his documentationof American birds during the early 19thcentury. His work is extensive and hismethods might be somewhat surprising.He killed most of his bird subjects first andthen used wires to propthem up into lifelike poses.Walton Ford is a self-described “enthusiast”of Audubon and his style is heavily influ-enced by him. There are drastic differenc-es, however, if you look closely.
Details.A self described “maximalist”, his paintingsoften fill the canvas with detailed imageryand multiple levels of storyline. He worksmainly in watercolor, but also uses oil, acryl-ics, and pencil. While staying faithful to thestyle of natural history books and field guides,Ford paints on a much more enormous scale.The scenes he paints are filled with drama,“capturing moments when the natural orderchanges, such as the last member of a speciesstruggling just before extinction.”
Details.The work of Beatrice Aurora is a good ex-ample of maximalism. It is the opposite ofminimalism or art which uses almost no imag-ery in its design. Someone like Walton Ford orBeatrice Aurora instead uses as much detailas possible in their works of art.
Symbols.“Each of Ford’s animal portraits doubles as a complex,symbolic system, which the artist layers with clues, jokes,and erudite lessons in colonial literature and folktales. Thescenes are often violent and full of a dark humor whichFord appreciates. His life size birds and animals oftenserve as metaphorical stand-ins for different cultures inallegorical narratives. Extinction, greed, power, naturalism,humor, the grotesque, are all repeating elements in Ford’swork.”Ford’s importance as an artist lies in his unique abil-ity to use his painting to comment on the human con-dition, the history of colonialism, and the continuingimpact of slavery and other forms of political oppres-sion on today’s social and environmental landscape.
Symbols. For example, in this piece called “The Sensorium”, you can see some of the monkeys fighting, one drinking wine, one glaring mysteriously at the viewer, and all of them appear to be involved in some kind of gluttony within a landscape that resembles the African countryside. Is Ford saying something here about how European colonizers behaved? Can you find any part of the scene that might be relevant to our Amer- ican culture today?
Message. What could Ford be saying with this image called “Jack in his Death- bed”? Does the erupting volcano int he background or the environ- ment that the animal is in make you think of anything?
You try it.Can you take a classic style that you’ve seen before,maybe in a museum or a book, and reuse it to say some-thing about your country, history, or an event that youfind interesting?Think about shock value. What can you make that appearsto be normal, but when you look at the details is really outof the ordinary?Teach people something by rearranging something old.