LAMA BLOG

Floating Bohemia: Gordon Onslow Ford and the S. S. Vallejo

April 21, 2016

Gordon Onslow Ford (1912–2003) is best known as the last and youngest member of the Surrealist group that convened in Paris in the 1930s, but he was no stranger to the Bay Area vanguard, either. Between 1947 and 1959, Onslow Ford and his wife, the writer Jacqueline Johnson, lived in San Francisco. There the painter made his studio aboard the S.S. Vallejo, a decommissioned ferry docked in Sausalito. He shared the boat with the Greek collagist and poet Jean Varda, and together the two made the vessel a salon of sorts—a floating clubhouse for an astonishingly diverse group of artists and writers, from Beat poets to members of the Bay Area Figurative movement.

Lot 154, Gordon Onslow Ford, In Vironment (2002)
Lot 154, Gordon Onslow Ford, In Vironment (2002)
May 22, 2016 Modern Art & Design Auction

Frequent visitors included the painter Lee Mullican, the writer Henry Miller, who had introduced Onslow Ford to Varda, and the sculptor Ruth Asawa, alongside whom Onslow Ford took classes in calligraphy. The surrealist Roberto Matta worked in a studio on the ship for six months in 1956. On a given night you might find the artists Mark Tobey, Wolfgang Paalen, and Richard Bowman there. On another you could see writer Jack Kerouac, poets Allen Ginsburg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Maya Angelou, or newspaper columnist Herb Caen.

157, Gordon Onslow Ford, Both Sides One (1961)
Lot 157, Gordon Onslow Ford, Both Sides One (1961)
May 22, 2016 Modern Art & Design Auction

For Onslow Ford, the partying ended in 1959, when he and Johnson settled into their new home on land they had acquired in Inverness in Marin County. The artist gave his share of the boat to the Zen Buddhist scholar Alan Watts, who would turn the S.S. Vallejo, for better or worse, into one of the crucibles of New Age spiritualism. Their new woodland property, the present-day Bishop Pine Preserve, would become a colony for artists and collaborators, and would remain Onslow Ford’s home until the end of his life.

Lot 153, Gordon Onslow Ford, Spring of Night and Day
Lot 153, Gordon Onslow Ford, Spring of Night and Day (1999)
May 22, 2016 Modern Art & Design Auction

Lot 155, Gordon Onslow Ford, Si tu avais idee de ton ame oiseau (1944) Lot 156, Gordon Onslow Ford, Untitled (1980)
Left: Lot 155, Gordon Onslow Ford, Si tu avais idée de ton âme oiseau (1944)
Right: Lot 156, Gordon Onslow Ford, Untitled (1980)
May 22, 2016 Modern Art & Design Auction

Bogzaran, Fariba, Jasmine Moorhead, and Briana Tarantino. Gordon Onslow Ford: From the Vallejo. San Francisco, CA: Weinstein Gallery, 2007. Print. “Biography.” Gordon Onslow Ford. Lucid Art Foundation, n.d. Web.

Lot Information:

Lot 153
Gordon Onslow Ford
Spring of Night and Day
1999
Acrylic on paper mounted to linen
Titled lower left overlap; inscribed “99.31” twice lower left linen overlap; dated “10.99” in composition lower right
Composition: 36″ x 71.5″
Linen: 47″ x 94.75″

Provenance: The Estate of Robert Anthoine (acquired directly from the artist)

Estimate: $8,000–$12,000
May 22, 2016 Modern Art & Design Auction

Lot 154
Gordon Onslow Ford
In Vironment
2002
Acrylic on paper mounted to linen
Signed, titled, and dated verso
Composition: 38.25″ x 77″
Linen: 43″ x 81″
Frame: 43.75″ x 81.5″

Provenance: The Estate of Robert Anthoine (acquired directly from the artist)

Estimate: $20,000–$30,000
May 22, 2016 Modern Art & Design Auction

Lot 155
Gordon Onslow Ford
Si tu avais idée de ton âme oiseau
1944
Gouache on paper
Retains Paule Anglim Associates label verso; inscribed and dated frame verso “If only you had an idea of your soul the bird!/’44”; retains three notes written by the artist affixed to frame verso
Sheet: 16.25″ x 8.25″
Frame: 25.25″ x 17.25″
This work was gifted by the artist to his wife, Jacqueline Johnson.

Provenance: Jacqueline Johnson (gifted directly by the artist);
The Estate of Robert Anthoine (acquired directly from the above)

Literature: Dynaton Re-viewed. Gallery Paule Anglim exh. cat. 1977. 9.

Estimate: $4,000–$6,000
May 22, 2016 Modern Art & Design Auction

Lot 156
Gordon Onslow Ford
Untitled
1980
Acrylic on paper
Dated lower left sheet
Composition: 13″ x 18.5″
Sheet: 15.5″ x 21″
Frame: 21.25″ x 26.75″

Provenance: The Estate of Robert Anthoine (acquired directly from the artist)

Estimate: $4,000–$6,000
May 22, 2016 Modern Art & Design Auction

Lot 157
Gordon Onslow Ford
Both Sides One
1961
Parles paint on canvas
Dated lower left; signed, titled, and dated verso; inscribed “Parles paint/R192 IM and IN/91-41 C” verso
Canvas: 60.25″ x 44.5″
Frame: 62.75″ x 47″

Provenance: The Estate of Robert Anthoine (acquired directly from the artist)

Estimate: $15,000–$20,000
May 22, 2016 Modern Art & Design Auction

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