The summer flew by, marked by surprises both wonderful and tragic in the life of Ford Smith. While we like to keep the focus on the art around here, it stands to reason that if you are reading this blog, you might be interested in the artist himself, including what motivates, inspires or influences him. I thought this might be an appropriate venue to share these recent difficult episodes and how they might be impacting Ford’s art.
First of all, on the grand scheme of life’s problems to overcome, ours are certainly surmountable. Both Ford and I are healthy, safe and fortunate in almost every way that truly matters. But even in the luckiest of lives, a little rain must fall. So you might say we’ve had a couple of thunderstorms––but we are still grateful that they weren’t tsunamis.
The past several months have served up environmental and psychological challenges for Ford, without question. But their effect on him proved to be commanding and powerful tools to utilize in his work. He embraced these influences with the grace, mastery and ease which you might expect from Ford, and it’s evident that the new paintings are reflective of this period that has been characterized by more turmoil than he’s accustomed to experiencing.
So what turmoil am I referring to and how has it impacted his work?
Well, the most poignant is the recent health issues we’ve had with Belle, our beloved 10-year old (still so young) Boston Terrier. She has always been a daddy’s girl and tomboy – the likes of which would make you grin ear–to–ear. For the last decade, she’s been his constant studio companion, patiently waiting for the numerous and regular hours that punctuated his painting sessions with play together. Fetching, jumping, running, hiking… you name it. She’s been his self-described “tremendous athlete ”, and the two of them bonded every day in their joyous activities together.
At the beginning of the summer, it became apparent that Belle’s hind legs were becoming “wonky”, for lack of a better word. We figured that she must have pulled or twisted something (in our initial mode of denial), as she was always getting into scrapes with frequent vet visits over ten years. From snake bites to sprains to allergies and everything in between, we were certain there was a new wing named in Belle’s honor at the veterinarian office (or should be). She was our million–dollar baby, but we didn’t care. We were used to Belle’s limping, swelling or other such maladies. The price of vigorous play, indulgent parents and a happy terrier.
But this diagnosis was not so easy. Belle has progressive spinal problems that have been developing for years and are only recently presenting symptoms. Protruding and bulging discs were creating not only pain, but also paralysis of her hind legs. She went through a lengthy, dye–based CAT scan which revealed she was inoperable and that someday the condition will progress to the point where she can't walk anymore at all.
The paralysis is better than pain, so in some ways it’s a blessing. But she gets depressed because she can’t do the things that she used to do and it breaks our hearts. Dogs cannot understand and you certainly can’t explain it to them (although lord knows we’ve tried, anyway). It seems outrageous and unfair that this has happened to her––not to mention that she had just become a service dog the year prior and was traveling everywhere with us. One of the other side effects of her problem is her inability to control her bodily functions, when combined with not being able to walk, makes traveling with a service dog nearly impossible and definitely inadvisable.
So Belle now has a new normal. The most obvious is of which is that she walks a “drunken sailor ”. She loses her balance and weaves around as she walks or runs. Her back legs tend to drag behind her, and balance is difficult for her on most days. Some days are better than others. Eventually, she’ll need cart wheels for her back end to get around. For now, she's lost the ability to walk straight and be “wobble–free ”.
And this is where I saw Ford’s empathy and angst over Belle manifest itself into his work.
But before I go there, we had another situation that was less emotional, but created a great deal of stress and chaos in our lives.
A couple of weeks ago, we had a sewage pipe burst underneath our home that caused a sewage back up that led to a horrific flood inside the house where our offices and Ford’s studio are located. The miraculous part was that not one single painting was affected or damaged in the flood, thank God. We were so lucky on that count, we know. But it was still a gross and disgusting mess to live through. While that was dreadful enough in the moment, the subsequent reconstruction that meant tearing out of floors, walls and everything the toxic water touched was wildly disruptive and turbulent.
If you’ve seen videos of Ford working in his studio, you know that it’s a peaceful process and this environment was anything but that. So… chaos entered his normally serene and relatively ordered life.
This is the second event I’m witnessing where current events and his subconscious weave themselves into his work.
What I’m observing are polar opposite forces at work in Ford’s psyche and reality. He can be the master of his own universe, in a sense.
Belle can’t walk straight.
But Ford can paint straight.
The chaos of a home under construction is unnerving and unavoidable.
But Ford can paint with orderly precision and control.
Do you see it now? It struck me just the other day. An alert collector sent an observation to me in a message that he sensed Ford was on the precipice of change, which made me examine the recent paintings and those in progress with more introspective scrutiny.
And that’s when it hit me with remarkable clarity. Geometric lineation and patterns have characterized his latest work. Lines, dashes, orderly stands of radiant trees lording over a myriad of intensely infused colors which beg to be anarchic. But he has demonstrated full reign of the imagery with systematic precision and a characteristic straight and controlled style we haven't seen from him in more than a decade.
You know… back when he was just beginning his career and had little control over his future.
Ford has always avoided applying deliberate meaning to his paintings, but it became crystal clear that his subconscious makes a formidable and worthy creative partner.
The labyrinthine mind of an artist never ceases to amaze.