About the Artist
Walton Ford is an American artist, whose works combine history, science and mythology to explore the effects that humans and the environment have on birds and mammals.
Early Life and Education
Walton Ford was born in Larchmont, New York in 1960, one of four children. Walton’s father, Enfield Berry Ford, worked as an art director for Time Life, designing brochures and in-house publications. He often took the family on camping and fishing trips.
A copy of James Audubon’s Birds of America, given to Ford’s older brother, Flick, was an inspiration to young Ford, who made copies of the drawings.
Ford was a poor student, cut classes, did not participate in sports or other activities in or out of school and cared about nothing but his artwork.
After a dismal high school experience, Ford’s mother got him a place in the summer art program at the Rhode Island School of Design that changed his life. He put a portfolio together that earned him a place at the school in 1978, Ford went from a dismal high school student to an outstanding art student, although he earned his BFA in filmmaking rather than art.
The decision to major in film was inspired by Ford’s friendship, during their college days, with Jeffrey Eugenides, who went on to win the Pulitzer Prize, in 2003, for his novel Middlesex.
Ford also met fellow student, Julie Jones, in their freshmen year. In their senior year, Ford and Julie were both picked for an honors-program semester in Rome. He was going to make a film while in Italy, but the artwork he saw inspired him to begin to draw and paint again.
Career and Personal Life
Ford and Julie married in 1985, after living and working in New York for two years. Ford work with some old college friends, renovating apartments in the Dakota on Central Park West, and Julie worked as a bookkeeper for a Manhattan jeweler. They both did their artwork in their free time.
Ford did large oil paintings on wood, but felt out of step with the New York art scene, which was focused on graffiti artists like Keith Haring and Basquiat. His paintings were included in group shows, and some of them sold, but he struggled with his images, which looked much like Audubon’s.
Julie applied for, and was given, a Fulbright grant to study in India. The trip, which Julie and Ford made with their year-old daughter, Lillian, brought about a transformation in his work. After their return home, in 1995, Ford switched from oils to watercolors to tell the stories of the birds that he saw in India, and began to research the history of species that sparked his interest, especially species that were, or becoming, extinct.
They moved to Massachusetts, and rented a friend’s farmhouse. Ford had his first show at Paul Kasmin’s gallery, in 1997, and nearly every painting was sold.
Ford’s paintings became larger and more narrative, his style unique. He also started working with a master printer and was able to create a nineteenth century feel in his work.
Ford creates three or four large paintings a year and goes the Museum of Natural History in New York before he starts each painting. Ford has been visiting the museum since he was five and has always been fascinated by the artwork and sculpture of the dioramas and is familiar with the histories of the artists who created them.
His work has attracted the attention of major museums and private collectors, including The Smithsonian, MoMA and Mick Jagger. Walton Ford lives and works in Southfield, Massachusetts with Julie and their two daughters.
Calvin Tomkins. Man and Beast/he narrative art of Walton Ford. The New Yorker. January 26, 2009.
Matthew Rose. Inside Walton Ford’s Brutal World of Man and Beast. The New York Times. September 21, 2015.