May 22, 2016


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Lot 156: Gordon Onslow Ford

Lot 156: Gordon Onslow Ford


Acrylic on paper
Dated lower left sheet
Composition: 13" x 18.5"; Sheet: 15.5" x 21"; Frame: 21.25" x 26.75"
Provenance: The Estate of Robert Anthoine (acquired directly from the artist)
Estimate: $4,000 - $6,000
Price Realized: $2,875
Inventory Id: 22155

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Gordon Onslow Ford (1912-2003) is best known as the last and youngest member of the Surrealist group that convened in Paris in the 1930s, but he was no stranger to the Bay Area vanguard, either. Between 1947 and 1959, Onslow Ford and his wife, the writer Jacqueline Johnson, lived in San Francisco. There the painter made his studio aboard the S.S. Vallejo, a decommissioned ferry docked in Sausalito. He shared the boat with the Greek collagist and poet Jean Varda, and together the two made the vessel a salon of sorts--a floating clubhouse for an astonishingly diverse group of artists and writers, from Beat poets to members of the Bay Area Figurative movement.

Frequent visitors included the painter Lee Mullican, the writer Henry Miller, who had introduced Onslow Ford to Varda, and the sculptor Ruth Asawa, alongside whom Onslow Ford took classes in calligraphy. The surrealist Roberto Matta worked in a studio on the ship for six months in 1956. On a given night you might find the artists Mark Tobey, Wolfgang Paalen, and Richard Bowman there. On another you could see writer Jack Kerouac, poets Allen Ginsburg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Maya Angelou, or newspaper columnist Herb Caen.

For Onslow Ford, the partying ended in 1959, when he and Johnson settled into their new home on land they had acquired in Inverness in Marin County. The artist gave his share of the boat to the Zen Buddhist scholar Alan Watts, who would turn the S.S. Vallejo, for better or worse, into one of the crucibles of New Age spiritualism. Their new woodland property, the present-day Bishop Pine Preserve, would become a colony for artists and collaborators, and would remain Onslow Ford's home until the end of his life.

Bogzaran, Fariba, Jasmine Moorhead, and Briana Tarantino. Gordon Onslow Ford: From the Vallejo. San Francisco, CA: Weinstein Gallery, 2007. Print. "Biography." Gordon Onslow Ford. Lucid Art Foundation, n.d. Web.