GORDON ONSLOW FORD (1912 - 2003) "We Tree" 1964 Acrylic on paper, 39" x 24.5"
Gordon Onslow Ford Biography
Gordon Onslow Ford was born in England in 1912 to a father that was a doctor serving in the British army and who passed away when Gordon was only eight years old. After his father’s passing Gordon’s grandfather and uncle both of whom were artists became influential in Gordon’s early life. Gordon’s uncle Rudolph Onslow Ford taught Gordon how to paint at an early age and by age eleven Gordon painted his first “accomplished” landscape painting.
Gordon’s family thought it was best that Gordon follow in his father’s footsteps and pursue a career as a naval officer. Gordon attended the Dragon School in Oxford, the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth and the Royal Naval College at Greenwich and would go on to become a mid-shipman assigned to the Mediterranean Fleet.
With a great determination to become an artist, Gordon Onslow Ford resigned from the Navy and moved to Paris in 1937 where he studied with the Modernist painter Fernand Leger. This was the beginning of a long career in the visual arts that spanned several countries and many decades.
Not long after leaving the class taught by Leger, Ford met a young Chilean artist named Roberto Matta who was employed at the Atelier Le Corbusier. They became close friends and began influencing each other’s work. Matta also introduced Ford to his Surrealist friends Max Ernst and Yves Tanguy and he was soon invited to attend Surrealist meetings under the direction of poet Andre Breton. Philosophies of the group were much concerned with dreams and subconscious worlds. Ford, however began to be pulled to the theories of Carl Jung and concepts of collective consciousness.
With the outbreak of war, Ford was forced to return to London where he set up an exhibition of Surrealism and co-edited an issue of the London Bulletin on the subject in 1940. An illness prevented him from sailing on a destroyer that was to become the first vessel sunk in the war.
Gordon Onslow Ford received an invitation from the Committee to Preserve European Culture to give lectures at the New York School of Social Research in the United States and he arrived in New York in 1940. These lectures were said to influence some of the first generation of abstract expressionists including Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Arshile Gorky and Robert Motherwell.
While lecturing in New York he joined his friends, Matta, Tanguy, and Kay Sage. In 1941 Ford married American writer Jacqueline Johnson and they moved to Central Mexico where they renovated an old hacienda and took up residence for the next six years. This relative isolation allowed them to further refine their philosophies and also welcome old friends such Matta for visits.
Gordon and Jacqueline moved to San Francisco in 1947 and within a year he was awarded a solo exhibit at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) titled Towards a New Subject in Painting that reflected a new direction for his work. This new approach was coordinated with the artists Wolfgang Paalen and Lee Mullican in an exhibition titled Dynaton. The word "dynaton" originated form the Greek word meaning “possible” and Ford described this new direction as a “quest for the inner worlds.” Paalen had previously published a Surrealist off-shoot journal titled ‘Dyn’ in Mexico City from 1942 to 1944. The group became increasingly interested in native culture and its translation to contemporary art as well as the influence of the unconscious and the "unimagined" specifically through automatic drawing techniques.
In San Francisco Ford meets a Greek poet and artist named Jean Varda and together they purchase an 1879 ferryboat called the SS Vallejo which was 120 feet in length. After towing the Vallejo to a dock in Sausalito they refurbish the vessel and install studios within the ship. The ship becomes a floating salon for discussions on life and art perhaps not unlike a salon of Gertrude Stein who had been a friend in New York and Europe. The Vallejo is still in use today as a private home in Sausalito.
In the 1950s, Ford was introduced to Asian thought, Hinduism, Zen philosophy and Chinese calligraphy. This had a strong influence on the development of his painting. He gave his half share of the Vallejo over to his friend the Buddhist scholar Alan Watts in 1961 after he and Jacqueline had purchased over 250 acres of land above Inverness California. He would eventually give the bulk of the land to the Nature Conservancy for protection. The remaining property would become a small artist enclave called Bishop Pine Preserve.
While walking through Muir Woods near Mill Valley in 1947 Ford was struck by the formations in nature and devised a personal artistic vision based on the circle, the line, and the dot, as a reduction from Cezanne’s sphere, cylinder and cone theory. Accordingly, Cezanne wrote that “art is a harmony parallel with nature”.
During the 1960’s and 70’s Ford would publish two books, the first titled, “Painting in the Instant” which was written in the “spirit of Zen” and his second book titled, “Creation” which followed a major retrospective at the Oakland Museum of California in 1977. In 1989, teaming up with fellow artist Fariba Bogzaran who was a doctoral candidate in lucid dream research they collaborated research observations in dreams, mediation and art. During the 1990’s the team published several books and together they co-founded (along with Robert Anthoine) a non-profit organization called the Lucid Art Foundation (www.lucidart.org).
Ford died at his home in Inverness, California in 2003 and left the bulk of his estate to the Lucid Art Foundation in which he was a co-founder.
Museums Fogg Museum, Harvard University, Boston, MA Laguna Museum of Art, Laguna, CA Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA M.H. de Young Museum, San Francisco, CA Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art, Logan, UT Oakland Museum of California, Oakland, CA San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY Tate Modern, London, England University of California, Davis, CA Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY
Select Exhibitions 2009 Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York 2008 Weinstein Gallery, San Francisco, California 2007 Nassau County Museum of Art, New York 2007 Weinstein Gallery, San Francisco, California 2007 Kunsthalle-Bielefeld, Germany 2005 National Academy Museum, New York 2003 Weinstein Gallery, San Francisco, California 2003 Braunstein/Quay Gallery, San Francisco, California 2001 Musée des Beaux-Arts, Bordeaux, France and other venues 2001 Herbert Palmer Gallery, Los Angeles, California 2001 The Brooklyn Museum, New York, New York 2001 The Walker Museum, Minneapolis, MN. 2000 Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, California. 2000 Cambell-Thiebaud Gallery, San Francisco, California 1998 Foundacion Eugenio Granell, Santiago de Compostela, Spain 1996 A & C Gallery, JFK University, Berkeley, California 1995 Herbert Palmer Gallery, Los Angeles, California 1995 The Oakland Museum, Oakland, California 1995 Museo de Arte Contemporaneo, University of Santiago, Santiago, Chile 1994 Bochum Museum of Art, Germany 1993 Galerie Brochier, Munich, Germany 1993 Pavilion at the Botanical Garden, Munich, Germany 1992 Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art, Pepperdine University, Malibu, California 1991 Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centro Georges Pompidou, Paris, France 1990 Laguna Art Museum, Laguna Beach, California 1990 University Art Museum, Berkeley, California 1990 Centro Atlantico de Arte Moderno, Canary Islands 1985 Galerie Samy Kinge, Paris, France 1977 Oakland Museum, Oakland, California. 1977 Staalich Kunsthalle, Baden Baden, Switzerland 1977 Rutgers University Art Gallery, New Brunswick, New Jersey 1970 San Francisco Museum of Art, San Francisco, California 1962 M.H. de Young Memorial Museum, San Francisco, California 1956 Alexander Rabow Galleries, San Francisco, California 1948 San Francisco Museum of Art, San Francisco, California 1946 Karl Neirendorf Gallery, New York, New York 1939 Salon des Indépendants, Paris, France
Select Literature 2005 Dervaux, Isabelle, Surrealism USA 2005 Davenport, Ray. Davenport's Art Reference: The Gold Edition 2004 Landauer, Susan. San Francisco and Second Wave: The Blair Collection of Bay Area Abstract Expressionism 2002 Hughes, Edan Milton. Artists in California: 1786-1940 2001 Ford, Gordon Onslow and Susan Davidson et. Al, Yves Tanguy and Surrealism 1999 Falk, Peter Hastings (Editor). Who Was Who in American Art, 1564-1975 1996 Landauer, Susan. The San Francisco School of Abstract Expressionism 1989 Hughes, Edan Milton. Artists in California, 1786-1940 1985 DuPont, Diana, K Holland. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art Paintings and Sculpture Collection 1985 Falk, Peter Hastings (Editor). Who Was Who in American Art: Artists Active Between 1898-1947 1985 Albright, Thomas. Art in the San Francisco Bay Area 1945-1980 / An Illustrated History 1984 Orr-Cahill, Christina. The Art of California Selected Works/ Oakland Museum 1983 Ford, Gordon Onslow, Yves Tanguy and Automatism 1978 Ford, Gordon Onslow Ford, Creation 1976 San Francisco Museum Modern Art. Painting & Sculpture in California: The Modern Era 1974 Plagens, Peter. Sunshine Muse: Art of the West Coast, 1945-1970 1964 Ford, Gordon Onslow, Painting in the Instant 1951 Ford, Gordon Onslow et. Al., Dynaton, San Francisco Museum of Art
Sources Dorfman, John, The Fantastic Voyage, Art and Antiques, May, 2004 Johnson, Ken, Gordon Onslow Ford, 90, A Parisian Surrealist Painter, New York Times, November 23, 2003 Knight, Christopher, The Short Happy Life of Dynaton, Los Angeles Times, December 16, 1992 Landauer, Susan. The San Francisco School of Abstract Expressionism 2003 Muchnic, Suzanne, Gordon Onslow Ford, 90; Painter Depicted ‘Mystical Worlds’, Los Angeles Times, November 23, 2003 Plagens, Peter. Sunshine Muse: Art of the West Coast, 1945-1970 www.onslowford.com
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