Lot 75: Gordon Onslow Ford
The Desert's Dazzling Furniture
Dated "31-12-43" lower center; retains partial San Francisco Museum of Art exhibition label verso; bears the inscription in graphite "'the desert's dazzling furniture' watercolor 1943 GOF" frame verso (frame is being sold together with lot)
Sheet: 15.5" x 19.875"
Provenance: Deaccessioned from the San Francisco Museum of Art, San Francisco, California;
The Estate of Robert Anthoine
Exhibited: "Towards a New Subject in Painting," San Francisco Museum of Art, 1948
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The British-born painter Gordon Onslow Ford (1912–2003) was the youngest and last surviving member of the original Surrealist artistic group, led by the poet André Breton, that convened in the salons and cafés of Paris in the 1920s and Thirties and included such members as Joan Miró, Marcel Duchamp, Yves Tanguy, Jean Arp, and Salvador Dalí. Onslow Ford articulated an influential theory and practice of painting based on the notion of "automatism," spontaneous creativity unfettered by rational thought.
His paintings–marked by dense, layered patterns, strong lines, biomorphic forms, and glowing spaces manifest a visionary astral mindscape. Taking his inspiration more from Jung than Freud, Onslow Ford rejected the dream-based work of Dalí and others in favor of an approach that sought to more deeply probe the mind for archetypal, abstract signifiers of cosmic consciousness. Towards that end, he invented techniques such as one he called "coulage," in which he poured paint directly on the canvas, moving it to form random patterns. In early 1941, Onslow Ford delivered a series of lectures on Surrealism in New York that were attended by Robert Motherwell, Arshile Gorky, Jackson Pollock, and other Abstract Expressionist painters. It has been speculated that the artists were strongly influenced by Onslow Ford's "coulage" method.
In 1947–following service in the Royal Navy during World War II–Onslow Ford moved to Northern California. For a time he made his studio in a disused ferryboat in Sausalito–a place that became a gathering spot for creative types including sculptor Ruth Asawa and the writer Henry Miller. He later settled down to work and live on the coast in western Marin County. He began to practice Buddhism and to study Japanese calligraphy with a Zen master. For several years starting in the latter 1950s–in an effort to break down his art to its fundamentals, a pure and direct expression of conscious energy unaltered by worldly associations–Onslow Ford painted only in black and white. Universal Animal (1961–1962) was the first painting in which he introduced color back into his work. Thereafter, luminous hues were again central to Onslow Ford's restless, probing, and spiritually questing paintings–an art which sought, as he wrote, "to bring wonder into the world."
Onslow Ford, Gordon. Painting in the Instant. New York: H.N. Abrams, 1964. Print. Selz, Peter. "Spontaneous Apparitions: The Work of Gordon Onslow Ford."