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Tigers of Wrath: Watercolors by Walton Ford

June 16 - August 26, 2007

 

Organized by the Brooklyn Museum, Tigers of Wrath: Watercolors by Walton Ford will present approximately fifty of the artist's large-scale works on paper, most completed after 2000. These images of birds, animals, and fauna are meticulously executed in a style resembling John James Audubon's Birds of America, but one that also contains veins of political and social discourse.

By using the non-human world as a mirror for our own, Ford employs his skill as an artist and observer of people to subtly communicate his subjective commentary on contemporary society. With their vibrant colors, the precisely rendered images become landscapes that incorporate narratives addressing issues in literature, history, the naturalist tradition, the extinction of species and the relationships that can exist between the human race and the animal kingdom.

While Ford's work subtly embraces interpretations of a myriad of issues, his images can often be appreciated solely for their humor or for the sheer seductiveness of their surfaces. On a purely formal level, his brilliantly saturated pigments and tight compositions captivate viewers, producing a lasting impression that remains long after the work is out of sight.

This exhibition will present approximately fifty of the artist's large-scale works on paper, most completed after 2000. These images of birds and animals are meticulously executed in a style resembling John James Audubon's Birds of America, but one that also contains veins of political and social discourse. By using the non-human world as a mirror for our own, Ford employs his skill as an artist and observer of people to communicate his subjective commentary on contemporary society.

This exhibition is made possible in part through the generosity of the R.H. Norton Trust and the State of Florida, Department of State, Division of Cultural Affairs, the Florida Arts Council, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Click here to view an introductory text panel for the exhibition by Marilyn S. Kushner.

 

Wall labels and text from the exhibition

 
Baba-B.G., 1997
Watercolor, gouache, graphite, and ink
Private collection, courtesy of Paul Kasmin Gallery, New York
 
 
Chingado, 1998
Watercolor, gouache, graphite, and ink
Collection of Laura-Lee W. Woods
 
 
Dirty Dick Burton's Aide de Camp, 2002
Watercolor, gouache, graphite, and ink
Collection of Douglas S. Cramer
 
 
Kathmandu Guest House, 1997
Watercolor, gouache, graphite, and ink
Collection of Steven Katz
 
 
The Forsaken, 1999
Watercolor, gouache, graphite, and ink
Private collection
 
 
Na raamro, 1996
Watercolor, gouache, and graphite
Collection of Beth Rudin DeWoody
 
 
The Last Freedom Fighter, 1997
Watercolor, gouache, graphite, and ink
Private collection
 
 
Serpent Eaters, 2002
Watercolor, gouache, graphite, and ink
Collection of David Passerman
 
 
His Chaplain, 2003
Watercolor, gouache, graphite, and ink
Collection of Barbara and Duncan Chapman
 
 
False Point, 2003
Watercolor, gouache, graphite, and ink
Collection of Joshua Feigenbaum
 
 
NRI #3, 1997
Watercolor, gouache, graphite, and ink
Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Archbold D. Van Beuren
 
 
The Far Shores of Scholarship, 2003
Watercolor, gouache, graphite, and ink
Private collection, courtesy of Paul Kasmin Gallery, New York
 
 
Boca Grande, 2003
Watercolor, gouache, graphite, and ink
Sydney and Walda Besthoff Foundation Collection
 
 
Dialogue, 1996
Watercolor, gouache, graphite, and ink
Courtesy of Martin Kline
 
 
November 1864, 2005
Watercolor, gouache, graphite, and ink
Private collection, courtesy of Richard Nagy, London
 
 
NRI #1, 1997
Watercolor, gouache, graphite, and ink
Collection of Bryan Baldwin
 
 
Shelter Island, 2006
Watercolor, gouache, graphite, and ink
Collection of Dathel and Tommy Coleman
 
 
La Fontaine, 2006
Watercolor, gouache, graphite, and ink
Collection of the Minor family
 
 
The Debt to Pleasure, 2006
Watercolor, gouache, graphite, and ink
Private collection, courtesy of Paul Kasmin Gallery, New York
 
 
Malu, 1998
Watercolor, gouache, graphite, and ink
Private collection
 
 
Moriré de cara al sol, 2004
Watercolor, gouache, graphite, and ink
Private collection
 
 
Bula Matari, 1998
Watercolor, gouache, graphite, and ink
Private collection
 
The okapi of the Congo forest was unknown to European science until 1901. Native tales of such an animal had been recounted by the explorer Henry M. Stanley, known in Congolese as Bula Matari (Breaker of Rocks), whose expeditions laid the groundwork for the Belgian King Leopold II's genocidal exploitation of the Congo. But it was the British naturalist Sir Harry Johnson who actually confirmed the okapi's existence.
 
 
Der Panterausbruch, 2001
Watercolor, gouache, graphite, and ink
Collection of Barbara and Duncan Chapman
 
In 1934, a female black panther escaped from the Zurich Zoo. Zoo director Hieni Hediger reported:
 
Nearly ten weeks after the escape, that is not until the middle of December, a casual laborer on the boundary between Zurich Oberland and St. Gallen discovered the panther under a barn, and killed it for food . . . the big tropical cat was able to fend for itself for more than two months in the middle of a Swiss winter . . .
 
 
Madagascar, 2002
Watercolor, gouache, graphite, and ink
Collection of Linda Cheverton Wick and Walter Wick
 
Images of trade and piracy prevail in this picture featuring the now extinct elephant bird of Madagascar. Cited below the image are impressions of the island by Etienne de Flacourt (1607­1660), the French governor of Madagascar installed by the French East India Company in 1648.
 
 
Ornithomancy-No. 1, 2000
Watercolor, gouache, graphite, and ink
Private collection
 
According to The Oxford English Dictionary, ornithomancy is "divination by means of the flight and cries of birds."
 
 
Sensations of an Infant Heart, 1999
Watercolor, gouache, graphite, and ink
Collection of Jerald Dillon Fessenden
 
When John James Audubon was a young boy, his stepmother's pet monkey strangled Audobon's favorite pet parrot. The monkey was kept chained after the incident. Later Audubon would write that the "sensations of my infant heart at this cruel sight were agony to me" and that the painful memory may have been one of the reasons he painted birds.
 
 
Thanh Hoang, 1997
Watercolor, gouache, graphite, and ink
Private collection
 
Thanh hoang is Vietnamese for "guardian spirit." According to legend, when a tiger devours a person, the soul of the victim is forced to ride on the tiger's back. The stripes on this tiger contain historic figures associated with the Chinese, French, and American military interventions in Vietnam.
The Grand Tour, 2000
Watercolor, gouache, graphite, and ink
Courtesy of MDG Fine Arts
 
When the Austrian painter Oskar Kokoschka (1886­1980) painted a mandrill at the London zoo in 1926, he was convinced that the animal disliked him. "At night in the monkey house," he wrote, "I painted a big solitary mandrill, who profoundly detested me, although I always brought him a banana, in order to make myself agreeable." The Grand Tour portrays the capture and transport of this mandrill from Africa to London via the port of Naples.
 
 
Ricordazione, 2005
Watercolor, gouache, graphite, and ink
Private collection
 
Ricordazione [Recollection] is based on one of Leonardo da Vinci's first memories. He wrote in one of his notebooks, " . . . while I was in my cradle a kite came to me and opened my mouth with its tail, and struck me several times with its tail inside my lips."
 
 
Jack on His Deathbed, 2005
Watercolor, gouache, graphite, and ink
Collection of Richard Mishaan
 
Sir William Hamilton, British ambassador to the Court of Naples from 1764 to 1800, had a pet named Jack, an intelligent, mischievous monkey who liked to play tricks on humans. Hamilton was also an avid collector of classical antiquities and an expert on volcanoes who led tourists on expeditions to the rim of Mount Vesuvius. As Ford depicts it here, Vesuvius was erupting as Jack lay dying.
 
 
Lost Trophy, 2005
Watercolor, gouache, graphite, and ink
Private collection
 
In Green Hills of Africa, Ernest Hemingway describes shooting, but failing to kill, a bull sable antelope:
 
I was thinking about the bull and wishing to God I had never hit him. Now I had wounded him and lost him. I believe he went right on traveling and went out of that country. He never showed any tendency to circle back. Tonight he would die and the hyenas would eat him.
 
 
Eothen, 2001
Watercolor, gouache, graphite, and ink
Cartin Collection, Hartford, Connecticut
 
 
Le Jardin, 2005
Watercolor, gouache, graphite, and ink
Collection of Andrea and Eric Colombel
 
 
Falling Bough, 2002
Watercolor, gouache, graphite, and ink
Private collection
 
Now extinct, the passenger pigeon was the most numerous bird on earth in the nineteenth century. Audubon described a hunt for it in Kentucky in 1831:
 
The pigeons, arriving by thousands, alighted everywhere, one above another, until solid masses as large as hogsheads were formed on the branches all round. Here and there the perches gave way under the weight with a crash, and falling to the ground, destroyed hundreds of the birds beneath . . .
 
Ford has portrayed the birds as causing their own extinction by bad behavior including gluttony, envy, and murder.
 
 
The Sensorium, 2003
Watercolor, gouache, graphite, and ink
Private collection, New York
 
The Victorian explorer and scholar Sir Richard Burton (1821­1890) was a young officer in India when he gathered together in his house forty monkeys in order to learn their language. As the British Empire colonized parts of the world, so too did Burton try to "colonize" simian culture, assigning his monkeys titles or occupations. His wife Isabel wrote:
 
He had his doctor, his chaplain, his secretary, his aide-de-camp, his agent, and one tiny one, a very pretty, small, silky looking monkey, he used to call his wife, and put pearls in her ears . . . they all sat down on chairs at mealtimes . . . and his pretty little monkey sat by him in a high baby's chair . . . he had about sixty words before the experiment was concluded . . .
 
 
Space Monkey, 2001
Watercolor, gouache, graphite, and ink
Private collection, courtesy of Paul Kasmin Gallery, New York
 
Bonobos are the most sexually active of apes. Their behavior may have been developed by females to protect their offspring from aggressive males. Bonobo females rejoin their groups right away after having given birth, and copulate within months. They have managed to make paternity so ambiguous that there is little to fear. Bonobo males have no way of knowing which offspring are theirs and which not. Moreover, since Bonobo females tend to be dominant, attacking them or their offspring is a risky business. Most likely, if a male were to make a suspicious move, females would band together in defense. We do not know this for certain, because infanticide has thus far never been documented in the species. Perhaps the female counterstrategy is so effective that not even attempts in this direction take place . . . . The relatively carefree existence enjoyed by female bonobos contrasts sharply with the risks faced by female chimpanzees. It is hard to overestimate the premium that evolution must have placed, at least for females, on calling a halt to infanticide.
-Frans de Waal, Bonobo: The Forgotten Ape
 
 
Buddha Purnima, 1998
Watercolor, gouache, graphite, and ink
Collection of Steven Katz
 
Buddha Purnima, one of the most sacred days on the Buddhist calendar, celebrates Lord Buddha. Traditionally on this day, caged animals are set free and the fortunate share food with the poor. The imagery in this work titled after the holiday derives from a traditional Indian story, "The Monkey and the Crocodile," recounted by A. K. Ramanujuan:
 
"Oh, that's why you've been coming home late! A monkey that lives on such fruit must have sweet flesh. His heart must taste like heaven. I'd love to eat it," said the crocodile wife.
 
The crocodile didn't like the turn the conversation was taking. "How can you talk like that? He's my friend! He's like a brother-in-law to you."
But the wife sulked and said, "I want his heart. Why are you so taken with this monkey? Is it a he or a she? Bring me his heart, or hers, which is even better. Or else I'll starve myself to death."
 
The crocodile tried his best to talk her out of her jealousy and ill-will, but he couldn't. He agreed to bring the monkey home on his back for a meal, as it were.
 
 
The Witch of St. Kilda, 2005
Watercolor, gouache, graphite, and ink
Private collection
 
The tale that comes down to us of the capture of [the now extinct great auk] in or about the year 1840 is a strange and a dark one. Although the year is not known with certainty, the month was July. Five men, wandering on the great rock of an island known as Stac-an-Armin, caught a large and plump bird asleep on a ledge [and] took it to their [shelter] where they confined it for three days. Apparently it used to make a great noise . . . . It opened its mouth when anyone came near it [and] nearly cut the rope with its bill. A storm arose, and that, together with the size of the bird, and the noise it made, caused them to think it was a witch. It was killed on the third day after it was caught, and McKinnon declares they were beating it for an hour or two [with] large stones before it was dead . . . .
-Errol Fuller, The Great Auk
 
 
Sanctuary, 1999
Watercolor, gouache, graphite, and ink
Private collection, Colorado
 
This painting is meant to resemble the dioramas at the American Museum of Natural History, created by the explorer, hunter, conservationist, and photographer Carl Akeley (1864­1926). Akeley, considered the father of modern taxidermy, is also credited with creating the first gorilla preserve in the world and was buried on one of the Kivu volcanoes in Africa where the last mountain gorillas survive. The gorilla pictured here holds Akeley's skull.
 
 
Nila, 1999-2000
Watercolor, gouache, graphite, and ink
Collection of Andrea and Eric Colombel
 
According to ancient Sanskrit writings, nila are nerve centers on an elephant. By pressing on these points, an elephant driver can control the animal.
Breeding bull elephants are often seized by a condition known as must. The danger and beauty of an elephant in must is celebrated in the ancient Sanskrit text Matanga-Lila [Ancient Elephant Sport]. Under "On Kinds of Must," it reads:
 
6. Excitement, swiftness, odor, love, passion, complete florescence of the body, wrath, prowess, and fearlessness are declared to be the . . . excellences of must.
7. Of old the Unborn (Brahama) created must, and then deposited half of it in [all other] creatures, moving and stationary, and deposited the other half in elephants. So intoxicated, they fight and become enraged, mastered by it.
The Starling, 2002
Watercolor, gouache, graphite, and ink
Cartin Collection, Hartford, Connecticut
 
It is easy for people to hate starlings. We dislike their aggressive behavior toward birds of milder manner, their gluttonous consumption of farm and garden products intended for human nourishment, their habit of congregating in massive, noisy flocks to feed or roost; and even their swaggering walk. But, most of all, people despise starlings for their unbounded fecundity, because starlings do nothing in moderation . . . .
 
The man who proved equal to the challenge of establishing the starling in this country, however, was Eugene Scheifflin, a New York drug manufacturer whose hobbies were the study of birds and the study of Shakespeare . . . . Being interested in both birds and Shakespeare as he was, he might be expected to notice the birds mentioned in Shakespeare's writings. It was even natural enough, perhaps, that he should make a list of them. But who would have guessed that his next project would be to import to America all the birds Shakespeare had mentioned?
-George Laycock, The Alien Animals
 
 
Delirium, 2004
Watercolor, gouache, graphite, and ink
Private collection
 
The source for this image is Audubon's description of his attempt to trap a golden eagle. He caught the eagle in a fox trap, but the bird escaped with the device still attached to its leg. After finally capturing the eagle, Audubon tried to asphyxiate it by burning charcoal and sulfur, but the bird refused to die. Ultimately, Audubon wrote, "I was compelled to resort to a method always used as the last expedient, and the most effectual one. I thrust a long pointed piece of steel through his heart, when my proud prisoner instantly fell dead." Audubon was so upset by the experience that he fell ill after painting the bird.
 
 
Bird Lime, 2005
Watercolor, gouache, graphite, and ink
Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Tom Walker
 
Birdlime is a sticky substance used to capture birds. In Camplife and the Tricks of Trapping (1881), W. Hamilton Gibson wrote:
 
If any of our readers chance to become possessed of an owl, they may look forward to grand success with their limed twigs . . . fastening the bird in the crotch of some tree . . . [the trapper covers] the neighboring branches with the gummy substance. No sooner is the owl spied by one bird than the cry is set up and a score of foes are soon at hand . . . and one by one find themselves held fast.
 
 
Novaya Zemlya Still Life 1596, 2006
Watercolor, gouache, graphite, and ink
Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut, The Douglas Tracy Smith and Dorothy Potter Smith Fund
 
In his True and Perfect Description of Three Voyages by the Ships of Holland and Zeeland, Gerrit de Veer, one of the participants in Willem Barents's 1596 expedition to find a northeast passage to Asia, recounts the following incident:
 
The 6th of September, some of our men went on shore upon the firm land to seek for stones, which are a kind of diamond [rock crystal], whereof there are many . . . and while they are seeking the stones, two of our men lying together in one place, a great lean white bear came suddenly stealing out, and caught one of them fast by the neck, who not knowing what it was that took him by the neck, cried out and said, "Who is it that pulls me so by the neck?"
 
Wherewith the other, that lay not far from him, lifted up his head to see who it was, and perceiving it to be a monstrous bear, cried and said "Oh, mate, it is a bear!" and therewith presently rose up and ran away.
 
The bear at the first falling upon the man, bit his head in sunder and sucked out his blood, wherewith the rest of the men that were on land, being about twenty in number, ran presently thither, either to save the man, or else to drive the bear from the dead body; and having charged their pieces and lowered their pikes, set upon her, that was still devouring the man, but perceiving them to comes towards [her] she fiercely and cruelly ran at them, and got another of them out from the company, which she tore in pieces, wherewith all the rest ran away.
 
 
Funk Island, 1998
Watercolor, gouache, graphite, and ink
Courtesy Faggionato Fine Art, London
 
In a journal kept during a journey from England to Newfoundland and back in 1794-95, the British seaman Aaron Thomas described how the now extinct great auk, known as the penguin of the north, was boiled in order to remove its feathers, which were used in feather beds:
 
You take a kettle . . . into which you put a penguin or two, you kindle a fire under it, and this fire is absolutely made of the unfortunate penguins themselves. Their bodies being oily soon produce a flame; there is no wood on the island.
 
In this image, Ford depicts the great auks marching to the fires to be killed.
 
 
Astoria 1812, 2006
Watercolor, gouache, graphite, and ink
Private collection
 
In 1812, Ross Cox, an eighteen-year-old Irish immigrant, was hired as a clerk for John Jacob Astor's Pacific Fur Company and immediately sent to Astoria, the company's outpost at the mouth of the Columbia River. At one point, Cox wrote, he was lost in the wild for eleven days:
 
On looking about for a place to sleep, I observed lying on the ground the hollow trunk of a large pine, which had been destroyed by lightning. I retreated into the cavity; and having covered myself completely with large pieces of loose bark, quickly fell asleep. My repose was not of long duration; for at the end of about two hours I was awakened by the growling of a bear, which had removed part of the bark covering, and was leaning over me with his snout, hesitating as to the means he should adopt to dislodge me; the narrow limits of the trunk which confined my body preventing him from making the attack with advantage. I instantly sprang up, seized my stick, and uttered a loud cry, which startled him, and caused him to recede a few steps; when he stopped, and turned about, apparently doubtful whether he would commence an attack. He determined on an assault; but feeling I had not sufficient strength to meet such an unequal enemy, I thought it prudent to retreat, and accordingly scrambled up an adjoining tree.

 

(above: Walton Ford (American, born 1960), Boca Grande, 2003, Watercolor, gouache, pencil and ink on paper, 59 5/8 x 40 inches. Courtesy of Paul Kasmin Gallery)

 

(above: Walton Ford (American, born 1960), The Sensorium, 2003, Watercolor, gouache, pencil and ink on paper, 60 x 119 inches. Courtesy of Paul Kasmin Gallery)

 

Click here to view media images and captions for the exhibition.

 

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