Gordon Onslow Ford


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Painter. Born in Wendover, not far from London, he attended the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth before serving for several years as a naval officer. In 1937 he resigned his commission and moved to Paris to become an artist, despite lack of formal training. There he worked briefly with André L'Hote and Fernand Léger but soon befriended surrealists, particularly Roberto Matta. Developing their early work together with admiration for the paintings of Yves Tanguy, they attempted to incorporate visionary impulses into their art. In 1940 Onslow Ford traveled to New York, where early the next year his articulate lectures on surrealism at the New School for Social Research (now New School) thrilled some of the future abstract expressionists and other young Americans. Later in 1941 he moved to Mexico, where he met Austrian visionary abstractionist Wolfgang Paalen. In 1947 he preceded his associate to San Francisco, where the two artists, together with Lee Mullican, founded the Dynaton movement. Onslow Ford became an American citizen and in the 1950s settled in Inverness, California, within a coastal nature preserve near Point Reyes. At the time of his death at his home there, he numbered among the last of the Parisian surrealist group, which he joined in 1938. While still in Paris before World War II, Onslow Ford devised a technique called coulage (pouring), anticipating the method made famous by Jackson Pollock. By letting enamel paint flow freely onto a canvas, he took advantage of chance effects so admired by surrealists in their quest for automatic procedures that could tap into the unconscious. Sometimes he superimposed geometric lines and shapes over the fluid, indeterminate forms to bring order and stability to the canvas. During the same years, he also produced landscapes teeming with biomorphic forms. Finely elaborated paintings of this type, often incorporating cryptic symbols, continued to evolve for some time thereafter. In California, he continued his quest to represent an inner world in harmony with nature by picturing ineffable ethers sustaining hovering abstract forms and points of light.

Subjects: Art.

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