Wednesday, May 13, 2015

In Conversation: Juan Ford

Town Hall Gallery is delighted to be showing the work of Juan Ford as part of Conflicted: Adversaries in Art. It's the second opportunity we've had to work with this wonderful artist and his highly sought-after artworks. Juan has generously offered to answer a few questions and offer some insight into the works he has produced for the show. He's also been very forthcoming about the deeper intent in his work and the ideas that drive his creative energies.

Juan Ford's, We, The Enemy (with Michael Peck's painting at left)

Can you tell us how the idea for your weapon sculptures came about?

Sure. The idea for these was inspired by seeing Siri Hayes' photos of the weapons her son Oli had made [also exhibited as part of Conflicted]. I loved the the simplicity and honesty of them, and it reminded me of how I did this too when I was his age. I made some and put them into paintings as absurdist props, then I made an installation of them for the Mildura Palimpsest Biennale in 2013.

How do you find the difference between sitting methodically and quietly in your studio to produce fine-detailed oil paintings, and the more bodily manufacturing of your sculptural works?

I revel in making my detailed paintings slowly, often over weeks. But it's not always roses. It can be rather tedious, very boring sometimes. So often my installation work takes on a shadow personality to the paintings; they're made quickly, and brutally

I really enjoyed making these using nothing more than an axe, and old bits of crap I found lurking behind my shed. It's a great release! You can only be so refined with such an instrument.

I'm a very physical person, and yet this aspect of me is a counterpoint to working at the easel. When painting, thoughts, observations and realisations come slowly and in their own time. When smashing together an installation, one must improvise, and think on your feet as you create. But without the slow thoughts coming in the painting process, I'd never have had the idea to make something in a quick and nasty way in the first place. They're strangely interrelated.

Juan Ford, We, The Enemy (2015), photo by JIM LEE PHOTO (c)

Your works often celebrate the beauty of nature and its fragility in the face of human intervention on it. Are you optimistic about the human relationship with nature? Will our creativity save us?

Oh hell. I really fear for the wilderness we have left. Thinking how wilderness is turned into disposable junk is a very sad and disturbing thought. We emerged from the wilderness, and without it we cannot exist. At least not in any form that I can relate to. 

I think our collective ingenuity and creativity has helped greatly in tackling the colossal environmental problems facing us. And yet this ingenuity and creativity is put to use with equal or greater effectiveness in pillaging and destroying the natural world.  I'm not optimistic, but I do think that no sane person wants to live in a world where no wilderness remains.

You often utilise wrapping in your art - branches wrapped in tape, people wrapped up in chains and material, and these weapons are mostly held together with tape. Is that a deliberate way of combining materials? It seems somehow less aggressive, like things are hugged together, rather than pierced together. Although, it could imply suffocation …

I really do use a lot of wrapping, don't I? 

It began as a symbol of a weak stranglehold, and blossomed from there. It's an evolutionary thing. Taping something together is unstable, temporary and rubbishy. We all now seem to go about this way of doing things collectively, from built-in obsolesce in products, to crappy houses, disposable everything. It says, "yeah I could fix it, but fuck it, use duct tape". It's a symbol of an admission of failure, of kind of trying but coming up short. And it can be applied to anything.

Juan Ford, Rocket Surgery (2010), oil on linen, 76 x 61 cm, (c) Courtesy of the artist

Your work could be said to reveal a dark side of the interface between nature and human interaction. Plants covered in plastic, urban warriors fighting unknown combatants. And yet you render everything with such captivating beauty. Realistic beauty too. Do you think that reveals a faith in the majesty of truth? That reality is truthful and therefore beautiful?

Ooh, big subject… how to answer this in paragraphs?

Firstly I think our interaction with nature is natural. We are products of natural evolution, and yet we think we are not. Perhaps the 'foreign' thing here is technology, which preys on us like a virus to a host. It develops and mutates exponentially of its own volition, and warps our behaviours. We adapt to it. Our relationship to nature is now irretrievably mediated by this parasite. And yet technology has come from us. It's all very complicated. 

I think about this kind of thing often, especially in terms of our relation to the ecology that begat us and sustains us. Why do we insist on shitting in the stream we drink from? 

My paintings are highly driven by technology, but I have always sought to use it as a tool to make paintings. This is why I was so interested in photorealism. My problem with photorealism is that I think it's perverse, that it has it's priorities backwards. I don't want to 'become the camera', as Chuck Close did. It's a zero sum game. Bam! photography wins in that scenario. I think the urge to paint, draw, create is something very very ancient in us, and it has always existed uneasily with technology. Even the technology of a burnt stick on a cave wall. I  see it as a battle, and I want creativity to win out, not the technology. 

This is why the photographic image is but a tool for my paintings. It helps me paint better. I can improvise, create and divert; but if I submit to the photo's authority, I cannot. 

I cannot know if truth is beautiful. I hope the resulting work is. In paintings, I've tried to rescue these half-digested, messy ugly scenarios and dioramas I make, and reconstruct them with deep care and time. Perhaps this is what is majestic, or beautiful?

I'm reminded of Magritte's 'The Human Condition' . A painting of an easel depicting what it blocks out. It is a work of genius; saying that to understand something, we must recreate it. And in doing so we misunderstand it, cease to see it. Our reality is second hand. True, unmediated reality doesn't involve us, and is thus not comprehensible. it is neither beautiful, ugly, whatever. Adjectives cannot apply.  It is simply there, and unreachable through our senses. 


Juan's work will be showing as part of Conflicted: Adversaries in Art until May 31.

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