Curator's radar: Juan Ford - Art Collector

Issue 63, January - March 2013

This profile appeared in the Curator's radar feature, part of the annual special issue 50 Things Collectors Need to Know 2013.

Juan Ford, Rip Snorter, 2012. Oil on linen, 51 x 40cm. Collection of McClelland Gallery & Sculpture Park. Courtesy: the artist and Sullivan + Strumpf, Sydney

The new director of the National Gallery of Victoria, Tony Ellwood, has only been in the job a short period, but he wasted little of that time acquiring a major work by Juan Ford to bolster the institution’s contemporary collection. The work, selected by Ellwood and curator Jane Devery, will feature in the gallery’s permanent collection of Australian contemporary art. The Gippsland Art Gallery also purchased a work from the same series and McClelland Gallery & Sculpture acquired Rip Snorter. With growing curatorial, critical and collector interest, and numerous upcoming projects, Ford’s powerful, pseudo-realist surrealism and environmental commentary has, indisputably, found its audience.

“I feel the rush really started in 2010 at the Melbourne Art Fair,” says Ford’s Melbourne dealer Dianne Tanzer. “All the work except one was sold prior to the opening and the last work sold on the night of the vernissage.”

“I feel his art has redefined the way we think about Australian landscapes,” she adds. “Over the past few years he has developed a body of work which has helped us reflect on our place in rural and urban environments. His paintings can be read on many levels. On one hand they address the issues of ecological destruction and present a dystopian vision of our natural world, while on the other they contain an unusual mix of very refined Indigenous botanical images, which are paint-coated and wrapped roughly with industrial materials and yet still retain their inherent beauty.” It is, she says, an attempt to “destabilise the traditional canon”.

Gippsland Art Gallery curator Simon Gregg comments: “I think we’re really seeing Juan break through right now because the imagery he has created is both instantly recognisable and entirely unique. It also deals with the history of art in a quite unconventional way. Ford talks about a smashing together of traditions – of still life, landscape and portraiture – and that’s all there in his work, but ultimately he has come up with a sequence of works that are totally arresting and stunningly beautiful.

“The term a painter’s painter is a cliché but it really seems to apply to Ford, in that his work is so much about the process of painting – paint dripped over foliage – and that his love and mastery of the medium comes through so clearly. I also think it’s important that his work is distinctively Australian, from the native flora he chooses to depict to the way he uses brilliant natural light. His paintings have become incredibly sensorial – they are entirely visual but they seem to ignite all the senses.

“I think for years people felt that to be beautiful was to be sentimental and weak, but artists like Juan are proving that that just isn’t the case.”

Ashley Crawford

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