Nathan Ford

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‘How to Make a Proper Alien’ a new book by artist Nathan Ford.

44 pages, 22 x 28 cm. All illustrations are from original paintings by Nathan Ford.

A limited number of books will be signed by the artist, contact us here for more information.

'How to Make a Proper Alien' a new book by Nathan Ford

‘How to Make a Proper Alien’ a new book by Nathan Ford (front cover)

'How to Make a Proper Alien' a new book by Nathan Ford

‘How to Make a Proper Alien’ by Nathan Ford (pages 2 and 3)

'How to Make a Proper Alien' a new book by Nathan Ford

‘How to Make a Proper Alien’ by Nathan Ford (pages 4 and 5)

About

Catalogue Essay

Sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose, or paint can manage to escape the madness, melancholia, the panic and fear which is inherent in a human situation.

Graham Greene

Given events in his life since his last solo exhibition two years ago, the question of what preoccupies Nathan Ford in his latest body of work, for me prompts a more fundamental inquiry.  Why does he paint?

Though far from being inarticulate, Nathan seems not to fully trust his ability to describe the whys or wherefores of what he does, at times stopping in mid-explanation as if he has let himself down, swimming energetically in the wrong direction and becoming tangled in tangential verbiage.

He is as an artist neither purely a planner or a discoverer. His large urban paintings have a purposeful and careful architecture, whilst the small portraits  are underlaid with idiosyncratic skeletal patterns.  Paintings large and small may include random-looking marks and smudges, or meandering lines and boxes.  At times preliminary measurements and calculations are pencilled along the edges or near to the face of a portrait subject.

It seems when painting there is a desire to preserve a record of every visit to a canvas; the ground-work, the plan, but also the serendipity, the wondering and wandering which is sometimes neat and quick,  or occasionally lost in battle near the finish-line.  Nathan’s mother attests to his slow writing and ponderous reading, and at an early stage of his childhood he was conscious of having to develop strategies to get around this.  It is not hard to see how a natural facility for drawing would be encouraged and amplified.

So there is initially a definite structure, but no fixed destination.  He revels in finding threads, visual resonances, in his own way and in his own time.  Though it perhaps seems like a habit of the contrarian, it may simply have germinated from a response to dyslexia, and gives him a very singular rationale. At times I think of Nathan as a painting version of the E.M. Forster character who exclaims, ‘Logic!  Good gracious!  What rubbish! How can I tell you what I think till I see what I say?”

He has developed a flowing visual language with a pronounced, unashamed accent, reinforced by the graft and craft of years of practice.  His paintings are effervescent yet finely balanced, here spare, there sharp, always suggestive rather than insistent, encouraging the viewer to seek out more, to look more intently. It is this that gives the work longevity.

Painting is Nathan’s prime mode of communication, a means for talking about his life, as well as to condense information into visual form. We see his children growing up, going out into the world, wandering through city streets, dwarfed by square urban building complexes or huge walls of graffiti.  We see the children’s bees, their hulking monsters, their ragged-toothed fish, their flying pigs, informing the more expansive streetscapes, and standing as their own discrete works in the Grey Hope series.

There are portraits of people he is very familiar with, among these, of course, his parents.  However the fulcrum of the show is 20 paintings of similar format which were included in a recently published book, How to Make a Proper Alien.  The book was in part prompted by the death of two friends.  However the major driver was the terminal sickness of his children’s closest friend, Nathan’s 10 year old nephew Thomas.  It is Nathan’s response to the inability to impart suitable or relevant words of comfort to those nearest to him. These paintings are also a way of being, a creative pathway out of the interstices of grief; an act of something from nothing that allows one to be made new, to move forward.

The sense of renewal is pertinent. By the time his exhibition at Beaux Arts begins, the artist and his family will have moved house. The 3 studio window paintings in the show are lined with coloured bottles left from the previous occupant, unearthed from the garden years ago on moving in.  They have contained plants that grew in the garden, placed in the bottles as momento mori.  The objects in the window sill paintings appear to shimmer and fade, presaging change.

In order to say something meaningful about one’s  life it seems necessary to shut out as much as possible any fear, doubt, or discomfiture that might ensue from the act of personal revelation that a solo show may involve.   It requires confrontation, experimentation, a willingness to fail, a fair share of creative inertia, and simply keeping one’s eyes open despite the urge to look away.  The bi-annual focus of a one man exhibition has given Nathan a rhythm to work within.  He uses the cycle of time in the only way he knows – instinctively, with purpose, in a manner that will I am sure engage his many admirers, whether they know a particular work’s inspiration or not. In spite of the seam of precious mortality that runs throughout, these are not melancholy paintings. They are touched with a mature sense of skill and awareness, a child-like ingenuity, and most importantly of all, the subtle harmony of authenticity.

Aidan Quinn, January 2017

 

Born in London in 1976

Education

1997 – 2000         The Byam Shaw School of Art, BA (HONS) Fine Art
1996 – 1997         Croydon College, BTEC Foundation Course
1994 – 1996         John Ruskin College, GNVQ Advanced Art and Design Course

Awards

2016               Shortlisted for Ruskin Prize

2015               Shortlisted for Threadneedle Prize

2015               Art in Action Oxfordshire, Best of the Best – 2nd prize.

2014               Art in Action Oxfordshire, Best of the Best – 1st prize.

2013               National Art Open, Towry Regional Prize, London and Chichester.

2011               BP Portrait Awards, Visitors Choice 2nd Prize, National Portrait Gallery, London.

2010               Royal Institute of Oil painters, Winsor & Newton Young Artist Award, 1st Prize, Mall Galleries, London.

2004               Royal Institute of Oil painters, Winsor & Newton Young Artist Award, Commendation, Mall Galleries, London.

2001, 2003    Royal Institute of Oil painters, Winsor & Newton Young Artist Award, 1st Prize, Mall Galleries, London.

1999, 2000    Royal Institute of Oil painters, Winsor & Newton Young Artist Award, 2nd Prize, Mall Galleries, London.

2001               Royal Society of British Artists, Gordon Hulson Memorial Prize, Mall Galleries, London.

1999               Young Artists’ Britain, The Prince of Wales’s Young Artists’ Award, Hampton Court Palace, London.

1998               The Worshipful Company of Painter-Stainers bursary in painting

1997               Full scholarship to study at the Byam Shaw School of Art for three years

 

Selected Exhibitions

2017

Beaux Arts Bath, Solo Exhibition

London Art Fair, Islington, London

 

2016

London Art Fair, Islington, London

The Ruskin Prize, The New Gallery Walsall and London.

LAPADA Art and Antiques Fair, London

 

2015

Beaux Arts Bath, Solo Exhibition

London Art Fair, Islington, London

Unfurl, Gallery 1261, Denver

National Art Open, London and Chichester

Lynn Painter-Stainers Prize, London.

 

2014

Beaux Arts Bath, Artists of Fame and Promise

20/21 Art Fair, Royal College of Art,  London

 

2013

Beaux Arts Bath, Solo Exhibition

London Art Fair, Islington, London

20/21 Art Fair, Royal College of Art,  London

National Art Open, London and Chichester

Lynn Painter-Stainers Prize, London.

 

2012

Beaux Arts Bath, Summer Exhibition

BP Awards, National Portrait Gallery London

Sunday Times Watercolour Competition, London

Royal Society of Portrait Painters, Mall Galleries, London.

London Art Fair, Islington, London

20/21 Art Fair, Royal College of Art, London

Holbourne Portrait Prize, Bath. 2012

Royal Institute of Oil Painters, Mall Galleries, London

Royal Society of British Artists, Mall Galleries, London

 

2011

Beaux Arts Bath, Solo Exhibition

BP Awards, National Portrait Gallery London

20/21 Art Fair, Royal College of Art, London

London Art Fair, Islington, London

Royal Institute of Oil Painters, Mall Galleries, London

Discerning Eye, Mall Galleries, London

Lilly Zeligman Gallery, The Netherlands

 

2010

Beaux Arts Bath, Summer Exhibition

BP Awards, National Portrait Gallery London

London Art Fair, Islington, London

20/21 Art Fair, Royal College of Art, London

Art London

Royal Institute of Oil Painters, Mall Galleries, London

Lilly Zeligman Gallery, The Netherlands

 

2009

Beaux Arts Bath, Solo Exhibition

London Art Fair, Islington, London

20/21 Art Fair, Royal College of Art, London

Royal Institute of Oil Painters, Mall Galleries, London

 

2008

London Art Fair, Islington, London

20/21 Art Fair, Royal College of Art, London

‘Crossing Over’, Beaux Arts Bath

Eisteddfod, Cardiff

Royal Society of Portrait Painters, Mall Galleries, London

Royal Institute of Oil Painters, Mall Galleries, London

 

2007

Beaux Arts Bath, Solo Exhibition

London Art Fair, Islington, London

20/21 Art Fair, Royal College of Art, London

Art London

Summer Exhibition, Beaux Arts Bath

Royal Institute of Oil Painters, Mall Galleries, London

Victor Felix Gallery, London

 

2006

London Art Fair, Islington, London

Art London

Royal Institute of Oil Painters, Mall Galleries, London

Artists of Fame and Promise, Beaux Arts Bath

Kooywood Gallery, Cardiff

 

2005

Beaux Arts Bath, Solo Exhibition

London Art Fair, Islington, London

Royal Institute of Oil Painters, Mall Galleries, London

‘Face Value’, Chelsea Art Gallery, Palo Alto, California, USA

Kooywood Gallery, Cardiff

Victor Felix Gallery, London

 

2004

Artists of Fame and Promise, Beaux Arts Bath

Royal Institute of Oil Painters, Mall Galleries, London

Fairfax Gallery, Chelsea, London and Tonbridge Wells

Victor Felix Gallery, London

St. David’s Studio Gallery, Pembrokeshire

 

2003

Beaux Arts Bath, Solo Exhibition

Discerning Eye, Mall Galleries, London

Royal Institute of Oil Painters, Mall Galleries, London

Slice 1, Jacob’s Market, Cardiff

Royal Institute of Oil Painters, Mall Galleries, London

St. David’s Studio Gallery, Pembrokeshire

 

 

2002

‘Urban Myths’, Beaux Arts Bath

Affordable Art Fair, London and New York

Royal Institute of Oil Painters, Mall Galleries, London

Fairfax Gallery, Chelsea, London and Tonbridge Wells

Royal Society of British Artists, Mall Galleries, London

 

2001

Summer Show, Beaux Arts Bath

Royal Institute of Oil Painters, Mall Galleries, London

Royal West of England Academy, Bristol

St. David’s Studio Gallery, Pembrokeshire

Royal Society of British Artists, Mall Galleries, London

 

2000

Royal Institute of Oil Painters, Mall Galleries, London

Discerning Eye, Mall Galleries, London

St. David’s Studio Gallery, Pembrokeshire

 

 

2001

Royal Society of British Artists, Mall Galleries, London

The Prince’s Foundation, London

Royal West of England Academy, Bristol

St. David’s Studio Gallery, Pembrokeshire

 

2000

New English Art Club, Mall Galleries, London

BP Awards, National Portrait Gallery, London

West Coast Art Fair, San Francisco

St. David’s Studio Gallery, Pembrokeshire

 

1999

Royal Society of Portrait Painters, Mall Galleries, London

Young Artists’ Britain, Hampton Court Palace, London

St. David’s Studio Gallery, Pembrokeshire

 

1998

‘Naked’, The Concourse Gallery, London

Worshipful Company of Painter-Stainers, Livery Hall, London

 

Catalogue Essay

 

‘What will survive of us is love.’ Philip Larkin

It is initially a slightly unnerving experience sitting for a portrait with Nathan Ford. With piano music softly meandering in the background, and the artist looking one intensely in the eye, it helped to home in on a small triangle of Nathan’s furrowed brow as a means of warding off wandering thoughts. ‘Loose!’ he repeats softly. The scrunched concentration is immediately recognisable from his archive of rather stern and unflattering self-portraits, and more than a little redolent of the painting of ‘Dad’ in this show. His father Stan, unused to an extended period of remaining still, busied himself while sitting for his portrait worrying about the garage he runs. The clenched look of concern is as familiar as the subject himself, though it is not how Ford senior would like himself presented. Noteworthy too is the title, describing the oft-painted Stan from the artist’s point of view for the first time. These portraits are Nathan making conversation, plotting a pathway through the experience of being with the sitter. He is well acquainted with his chosen subjects and tries to describe something of their interiority. Though this attempt will always to some extent be a fumbling in the dark, it addresses the simple question in Yeats’ poem The Man and the Echo, ‘What do we know but that we face one another in this place.’

Nathan is nothing if not a practical artist, with a considered, strategic modus operandi. His tools are laid out within touching distance; palette paints ruler scalpel calculator rubber pencils and an array of brushes. His face alternates between the strain of ardent looking to the visible relaxing of features as he marks the canvas. All the small adult portraits in the show are painted thus from life, and it appears, in marked contrast to the paintings of his two sons that life has, to paraphrase Rembrandt, etched itself on to the faces with age.
The portraits of his sons Reuben (8) and Joachim (6) are only a small part of their overall contribution to the exhibition as a whole, and their influence on his work in general. At one time Nathan would not paint his children for fear of bringing the outside world in on them. Their gradual involvement, from oblique portraits, through panoramic scenes of open spaces and vulnerability, then as graffiti draughters of monster fish and runaway apatosauruses, now has them as artists in their own right, more or less, with their own ongoing project (Grey Hope), albeit with the imprimatur of paternal tutelage and an ever-decreasing degree of choreography. One can appreciate that he wants a painting like ‘Carnival’ to be enjoyed in all its glory; not to give it import, but to show its import.

It seems obvious to say that Nathan is painting his life, and that drawing and painting has become part and parcel of his children’s experience. On a visit to Rome in the autumn of 2013, he characteristically eschews the oft-depicted delights of the eternal city, offering us instead the ‘Diario’ paintings, from the rooftop of his rented apartment at the same time each morning. When in Rome, Ford will do exactly what he thinks he should and though it may seem to be a contrariness, it is with a hard- won confidence and single-mindedness that he carves a way through any painting; he has a language he can make vivid, and tools that he knows and trusts.

The wide open urban vistas which include an unguarded child are still a part of the artist’s oeuvre. A tiny Joachim features in ‘Pocket’, enveloped by the sweeping architecture of Brighton’s Victorian railway station, the diminutive figure joined by an assortment of cartoonish accomplices. The spiders, bees and the blue elephant soften the sense of peril, much more present in ‘Recalculated’. It is Joachim again (the more boisterous of his two sons) who is nonchalantly strolling along the pavement in ‘Collective’, a painting which extends the idea of employing children’s graffiti in an urban setting. This collaboration, where members of the public were invited to draw on to the basic street scene depicted, was part of his contribution to an arts festival during the summer of 2014. It appears to build on Picasso’s remark that all children are artists – Nathan remarks on the reticence of adults to take up the offer to simply draw. A form of expression once perfectly natural becomes anathema with age. One can see why he would want to capture the artistic yen in his children. All parents do.

Other larger paintings depict vignettes from the artist’s life that will be familiar to aficionados. ‘Apart’ is an effervescent, flashing moment on Oxford Street as a cascade of buses slides past. The sense of urgency is a direct contrast to the scrupulousness of the small portraits. ‘Quinn II’ is a more sombre reflection, set in a semi rural side street near his current home. In ‘Flock’ sheep gather comically in a field on the artist’s running circuit. Even the bottles unearthed from his garden which appear in the still lifes are mainstays of the studio and the life he has carved out for himself and his family, many miles from South East London and the view of Crystal Palace so familiar to him from his own childhood ‘bedroom window’.

Whatever the subject, a balance of figuration and abstraction is sparingly achieved, encouraging viewers to allow themselves the time to pick up a subtly woven thread into the work. The backdrops, areas that may go unnoticed, are what the artist sometimes works hardest on in order to make this happen. Large and small, the paintings thrive on their mortality. There is the mortality of moments; in London streets, in cavernous railway stations, on family holidays, the phases of childhood that are rendered memories all too quickly. Mortality is distilled into the emotive single eyes of his nearest and dearest. These small gems sparkle, unerringly and without flinching, in a testimony to what a small portrait can achieve even when, or especially when, the drawing medium has been reduced to its merest essentials. ‘All memory’ Richard Hugo says, ‘resolves itself into gaze.’

Aidan Quinn, January 2015

Project GreyHope