Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Truth Is More Surreal Than Fiction

Jasper and I went to the Walton Ford exhibition at Hamburger Bahnhof yesterday and now he is definitely one of our favorite artists. For those of your who have never heard of him, he is an artist who does large scale animal watercolors in the style of Audubon (he even paints on spots of what looks like mildew onto many of the paintings which I thought was a nice touch.) Whereas a lot of animal illustration and paintings (especially watercolors) can end up being a little too much on the cute side, his work is really powerful and often pretty violent as is, indeed, the animal world.

But what I love most of all is that, no matter how surreal or gruesome the paintings may be, each one is based on a real anecdotes from natural history texts and documents or sometimes from a poem or short story.


This one, for example, is based on a quote about the aggressive Starling, a species non-native to the United States that was brought there by a man who wanted to establish colonies of all the birds ever mentioned in Shakespeare.


Or this one, from a diary of a man who saw a buffalo on the great plains put up a fight to the bitter end when attacked by a pack of white wolves.


Or this one about a 19th century fight between two tigers and a lion in the Tower of London.


Or this one, based on the description of Sir Richard Burton's (the Naturalist, not the actor) favorite monkey which he fed on a high chair next to his seat at the dining room table.

Walking around the room looking at these painting was an eerie, almost magical experience. No one was talking. Even our footsteps seemed to echo, like we were in some old cathedral filled with the various body parts and bones of different saints. The paintings were based on true stories, but like stories themselves, they had also risen the level of metaphor. Jasper and I bought several prints we plan to have framed for our bedroom. If you are in Berlin, you should definitely go and see the exhibition, but hurry. It ends on May 24th.

For an interesting peek into his studio, take a look at this little video:



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