Lucy Jakub at the NYRB:
Looking at the paintings of Walton Ford in a book, you might mistake them for the watercolors of a nineteenth-century naturalist: they are annotated in longhand script, and yellowed at the edges as if stained by time and voyage. Something’s always outrageously off, though: the gorilla is holding a human skull; a couple of parrots are mating on the shaft of an elephant’s penis. In his early riffs on Audubon prints, Ford painted birds mid-slaughter: his American Flamingo (1992) flails head over heels after being shot with a rifle, and an eagle with its foot in a trap billows smoke from its beak (Audubon, in search of a painless method of execution, tried unsuccessfully to asphyxiate an eagle with sulfurous gas).
Ford is never interested merely in the natural world, but in the way humans have documented, exploited, and repurposed it, and how these species have been mythologized, even as most of them have disappeared from the wild. Walton Ford makes paintings of paintings of animals.