New York based painter Walton Ford, featured here on our blog, is well known for his monumental watercolors of animals. From his tongue-in-cheek depictions of King Kong, to mythical 60 foot serpents, and epic battles between beasts, his works take the visual aesthetic of traditional natural history painting and apply it to an often bizarre and fantastical narrative. Ford recently debuted six new paintings at Paul Kasmin’s booth at Frieze New York, an homage to the incredible journey of a black panther.
“Der Panterausbruch” by Walton Ford, 2001
The series, painted in watercolor, gouache and ink on paper through mid-2015 and 2016, was inspired by zoologist Dr. Hediger’s account of a wild black panther that famously escaped captivity from the Zürich Zoo in 1933. It’s an idea that the artist first conceived in 2001, with his painting “Der Panterausbruch” or “The Panther’s Escape.” As she is chased by a group of townspeople carrying torches, the piece evokes the image of a slave running away and seeking to gain freedom.
Ford’s paintings revisit the tropical cat’s 10-week escape through Switzerland’s cold and hostile wilderness, where she surveys her new environment and inexplicably survives. In the tradition of Ford’s narrative, the presence of humans is sometimes implied. In one painting, the tropical cat huddles for warmth next to a blazing camp fire, perhaps built by a mysterious aid. Unfortunately, her romantic journey came to an unhappy ending as she was eventually shot by a “casual laborer”. Her memory lives on in Ford’s reimagining.
Of his compassionate portrayals of wild animals who refuse to be tamed, Ford once said: “They are animals in the human imagination rather than animals in nature. Generally, when you see animals in nature they are not doing very much; they are running or resting, it’s not terribly interesting. There’s a lot of ‘animal nature’ art, but almost all romanticize moments where there isn’t a human viewer included in the image.”