Juan Ford is an Australian contemporary artist known for his hyper-realistic paintings, as well as sculptures and installations. Experimenting with visual and spatial perception, the artist expands the boundary of painting as a medium and process, the inextricable relationship between humankind and nature, and his evolving self.Read More
Ford has employed the photorealistic modes of representation and anamorphic imageries that have come to characterise his practice since the early stages of his career. For example, the painting Chrysalis (2001)—from one of his earliest series, 'Clone'—depicts his partner Emily against a greenish sky. The anamorphic shape next to her transforms into a wire satellite when the painting is viewed from the side. In an interview with online magazine Sleepy Brain in 2003, the artist said that the satellite signifies Emily's search for opportunities. The Big Prayer (2002)—another hyper-realistic painting from the same series—shows a man with a doppelgänger. A pair of wireframe robot hands visible in the background, held together as if praying, allude to ideas of cloning and artificial intelligence. The artist's 'Anamorphic' series (2006) consists entirely of distorted images. Each painting is laid flat on a surface with a reflective cylinder on it, so that the work's subject becomes recognisable on the mirror. Cleanliness, Godliness depicts Marcel Duchamp's urinal, while In the Mind of the Painter portrays a profile of a skull.
Ford's works often combine figuration, landscape tradition, and botanical illustration—the three elements that are, in the artist's words from an interview with The Sydney Morning Herald in 2014, 'the most unhip' of the Australian art canon. For a touring exhibition commissioned by La Trobe University Art Institute and the Australia Council for the Arts titled Lord of the Canopy (2012–2014), the artist built a eucalyptus tree out of logs and branches with metal joints nailed to them. This process of reconstructing a tree inside alluded to the impact of human intervention on the environment. The installation travelled to Mildura Arts Centre in 2013 and McClelland Sculpture Park+Gallery, Melbourne, in 2014.
By merging figuration, landscape, and botanical illustration in his paintings, Ford challenges the fixity of genres and offers a new mode of representation. Inverted World, a solo exhibition at Brisbane's Jan Manton Art in 2007, presented portraits of individuals overlaid with shadows of leaves, inverting the prominence of nature over figuration in traditional Australian landscapes. As noted in Juan Ford: Artist of Seduction, published by Ocula Magazine, Australian flora also constitute crude anthropomorphic forms in his paintings such as Disobey Yourself (2013) and Guardian (2018), the latter of which features a human bust with a head that is made up of tree leaves.
Ford is also recognised for his introspective self-portraits, which were nominated for the Archibald Prize in 2012, 2014, 2015, and 2016. In Ultrapilgrim (2012), the artist portrays himself as a pilgrim figure journeying through life with a black plastic bag over his head and wearing a white garment fashioned like wings on his back. Regaining sight (a meditation on Rose Soady) (2016) pays homage to Rose Soady, an Australian printmaker and author who was the muse and business partner of artist Norman Lindsay. By placing her portrait over his profile, Ford references the process of losing oneself and finding inspiration or the muse while painting.
In addition to his self-portraits, Ford is acclaimed for his portraits of public Australian figures. Sir Isaac Isaacs (2014), for example, is of the first Australian-born governor-general and hangs in the country's Parliament. Other portraits include those of former Premier of Victoria John Brumby (2012) and chancellors and vice-chancellors of universities (for example, Chancellor Fay Marles, 2005, and Vice-Chancellor Richard Larkins—Monash University, 2007).
Ford studied engineering before graduating with a BFA in Painting from Melbourne's RMIT University in 1998, where he also earned his MFA in 2001. Selected solo exhibitions include Blank at Galerie du Monde, Hong Kong (2019); Solo Show at THIS IS NO FANTASY + dianne tanzer gallery, Melbourne (2015); Juan Ford: The Instant, Western Plains Cultural Centre, Dubbo (2011); and Make Nature Better, Sullivan+Strumpf, Sydney (2011). He has also participated in a range of international art fairs, notably Sydney Contemporary (2018, 2017); Auckland Art Fair (2013); and Art Basel in Hong Kong (2013).
Sherry Paik | Ocula | 2019