Sunlight & Shadows

“If there were water we should stop and drink

Amongst the rock one cannot stop or think”

T.S. Eliot

The leaves of the eucalyptus hang down presenting as little as possible of their waxy surface to direct sunlight in order to reduce evaporation. The sun is hot, burning and relentless in the Australian summer – it is not good. There is not a cloud in the sky and the ground is baked and dry like the skulls in Juan Ford’s paintings.  Sunlight, after the Egyptians and Socrates, is a symbol of the truth and the good. In the antipodes, it is the opposite the sunlight is cruel and soul destroying.

Juan Ford has learnt one thing from Robert Mapplethorpe, portraits of people with their eyes shut are great. They don’t confront the viewer with a return gaze; the closed eyes are the best symbol for sight or insight. Or have they shut their eyes and turned their back on the horror?

It was not hot at the opening of Juan Ford’s new exhibition “Gravity” at Dianne Tanzer Gallery. The Melbourne sky was dark grey and the sun was nowhere to be seen.

As I quaffed red wine and chatted at the opening I kept on hearing the word ‘photorealism’. Even though Andrew Gaynor had written, in the exhibition notes, that: “Ford treads the tightrope between faithful reproduction and psychological tremor, referencing photography but moving beyond photo-realism”. I want to quash this misclassification. Juan Ford’s paintings have nothing to do with photorealism. Photorealism is a specific style of painting that is characterized by hyperrealism, photographic precision and a focus on banal everyday scenes. Hans Holbein or Jusepe de Ribera or many other painters create pictures with photographic precision without being called photorealist. To call Ford’s paintings photorealist, and not Holbein’s, is the fallacy of post hoc ergo hoc (after therefore caused by) simply because they are painted post 1970. Ford’s paintings have nothing to do with photorealism: they are not hyperrealist and there is nothing banal about the subjects.

The subjects of Ford’s paintings are far from banal; they are haunting, almost allegorical. Titles like “A Glitch in the System” or an “An Orbit’s Conclusion” are certainly not banal. Ford’s anamorphic image of a galaxy seen in the curved surface of a trophy is the opposite of banal.

The paintings on exhibition at the Dianne Tanzer Gallery are of similar subjects to those that Juan Ford exhibited in “Inverted World”, at Jan Manton Art in Brisbane in November 2007. At the time I published an interview with Juan Ford in my old blog.


About Mark Holsworth

Writer and artist Mark Holsworth is the author of two books, The Picasso Ransom and Sculptures of Melbourne. View all posts by Mark Holsworth

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