Tuesday, September 11, 2012


If the world were clear, art would not exist. (Camus)

Juan Ford (2012)
Whereas botanical drawings and paintings are generally drawn to scale in order to highlight the plant’s obvious intricacies, Juan Ford’s macro representations of what we may consider micro features of indigenous Australian flora, such as Eucalyptus, Kangaroo Paws, etc become hyper-visual, hyper-real representations in his recent work being exhibited at Dianne Tanzer Gallery + Projects, 106-110 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy. As such, the paintings are realized as more potent than they might otherwise be. These large-scale images placed central on the canvas are specimens, examples of a larger species worthy of collection, hinting that there is an indigenous population that we must consider in order that its significance is not destroyed and lost.
When I first encountered Ford’s latest paintings of indigenous flora at the opening on Saturday I was struck by the manner in which he merged nature and culture; culture being his obvious reference to house paint (gaudy colors are splashed across the surface of the plants), the ubiquitous use of plastics in our society and how these synthetic or man-made products eventually encroach and invade the natural environment. The fact that these garish materials (paint and plastics) appeared incorporated into and adorned the plant, creating hybrid entities, was not as sinister as images we that may all have seen by now of various plastic substances found in the gut of dead indigenous fauna, who have unwittingly fed on discarded debris floating in our rivers and streams. All the same there was incongruity in these forms. Last Laugh (purchased recently by the National Gallery of Victoria) reveals that although the gum leaves are covered with red high gloss paint, nature will after all, survive.

Rock 'n' Roll. Juan Ford (2012)
Rock n Roll (2012), the largest and most imposing painting in the exhibition, depicts a naked man sheathed in a white linen sheet, each fold meticulously painted. The fact that the man is wearing unconventional dress, most likely worn by those living in arid environs sets up, at least in my mind the notion of other cultures and it harkens back to Ford's 2010 painting The Disconnector, which also depicts a man in shrouded garb. His body like that of the plants in this exhibition is clothed in culture, which simultaneously identifies and obscures his form.
The Disconnector. Juan Ford (2010)
Rock n Roll work captured my attention, not only because of its obvious reference to The Myth of Sisyphus (Albert Camus, 1955)  and the absurdity of human existence, but because the shroud suggests purity, strength and resistance. Dr Vincent Alessi explains: Like the human/nature tension found in the subjugated flora paintings, the painter as shamanistic figure in Rock 'n' roll extolls similar tensions experienced by the artist. Cloaked as both hero and anti-hero he exert his influence pushing the rock along its journey, only for the rock to push back - a sisypheius dance. Another reading might suggest that the rock is being supported by the man, who is doing everything he can to stop it from tumbling. It  was to the man’s hands that my eyes eventually fell, for in shadow they merged into the bolder and were almost totally camouflaged and integrated into its rugged surface. This point of tension between the solid, immovable rock and the obvious strain of the man was not however held at all in the confluence between the paint and the plants, in which human intervention was otherwise absent. 

I posed the following question to Juan:
Camus said: 'At this point of his effort man stands face to face with the irrational. He feels within him his longing for happiness and for reason. The absurd is born of this confrontation between the human need and the unreasonable silence of the world'. Do you feel irrationality and silence when you are painting, and does painting verify for you, Camus words 'If the world were clear, art would not exist'? 

He gave the following response:
I constantly feel irrationality, and sometimes silence. I sense sometimes that all is chaos, and we live in ephemeral cells of seeming order. Perhaps silence isn't it though, to remove civilization's noise from the inside of your skull requires colossal focus. I cannot sustain it for long, and I have tried.  I don't know why I make art. I just do. I like Camus, but he can be so.... Mid century European... The search for a catch all semantic answer from infinite chaos is eternal, yet dated. With Sisyphus, I referred to his, but more to the classic myth of Sisyphus.

See also my unpublished article on Ford's earlier work here

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