Walton Ford’s work is immediately impactful because of its scale, especially considering the artist works with watercolor — a notoriously unforgiving medium. Some of his monumental paintings span almost 10 feet wide. Small pieces for Ford are about as wide as the average human is tall. His current show “Watercolors” at Paul Kasmin Gallery in New York City is an allegorical series of animal paintings with a storybook appeal. Often tongue-in-cheek, the paintings are nostalgically presented as artifacts from the 19th and early 20th centuries with hand-written notes presumably left by the animal subjects for posterity.
A stately gorilla cruises in a Zeppelin in one piece. Though it looks like a snapshot of a whimsical tale, the painting is an homage to Susie, the first female gorilla brought to the United States in the aforementioned airship. Another painting, Rhyndacus, was inspired by Aelian’s De Natura Animalium, an Ancient Roman catalogue of animal species that provides a detailed account of a mythical 60-foot serpent that inhabited present-day Turkey. According to the gallery, the exhibition examines the ways the animal world has intersected with human culture. These backstories only add depth to Ford’s pieces, but they can certainly be enjoyed solely based on their impressive technical skill.