WALTON FORD, Isla de California, 2017. Watercolor, gouache and ink on paper, mounted on aluminum panel,108 x 144 inches unframed, (274.3 x 365.8 cm) © Walton Ford. Photography by Tom Powel. Courtesy Gagosian.

WALTON FORD, Isla de California, 2017. Watercolor, gouache and ink on paper, mounted on aluminum panel,108 x 144 inches unframed, (274.3 x 365.8 cm) © Walton Ford. Photography by Tom Powel. Courtesy Gagosian.

Walton Ford

It’s unique to see a distant artist delving deeply into our obscure local lore. In his current show at Gagosian, New York-based painter Walton Ford travels far back in time to the land of the Natural History Museum and La Brea Tar Pits. The exhibition’s title, “Calafia,” refers to a character in Las sergas de Esplandián, a 16th-century Castilian novel by Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo that apparently provided the basis for our state’s name. In Ford’s monolithic watercolors, prehistoric legends and pre-California fantasies intermingle with totems of contemporary culture. Cursive snippets of text from de Montalvo’s novel heighten their affectations of antiquated illustration. Just as conquistadors’ cartographic misconception of California as an island seems absurd today, Ford’s bestial hybrids flirt with farcicality; but his monumental, technically adroit allusions to imperiled species are firmly serious minded. In Isla de California (2017, pictured above), an ungainly California condor with tacked-on cougar hindquarters descends clumsily upon a telephone pole; while nearby, another griffin bursts aflame after hitting the wires. Have you ever contemplated a diorama, trying to imagine it as real, only to realize that you couldn’t overpass its intricate stage set contrivance? Ford’s painted blends of real and imagined encapsulate the problem with natural history: history is a human construct, and a skewed one at that.

Gagosian Beverly Hills
456 North Camden Drive
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
Show runs through Dec. 16