16. June – 18. September 2011
As a practising portrait artist myself I make sure to visit the BP Portrait Award at The National Portrait Gallery (London) every year. I go seeking inspiration and this year I wasn’t disappointed. My initial intention was to write a review of this exhibition as a group show however I found there was one artist that really stood out amongst the other competitors. This artist was Nathan Ford.
I am astounded by flawless and (clearly) time consuming portraits such as; Manuel Ferrer Perea’s Despertar – Awakening and Jan Mikulka’s Jakub - much like a magic trick I long to know how they did it. However, as fascinating as these portraits may be as an observer they just don’t inspire me as practitioner. Walking around the exhibition, I found myself drawn to Colin Davidson’s Thread the Light (Portrait of Glen Hansard) and Ian Cumberland’s Just To Feel Normal. Just as I was about to leave (as my empty stomach had begun to protest a little too loudly) I spotted a small grey painting off to the corner of the room.
I think I must have spent almost 10 minutes staring at this image. Nathan Ford’s Abi is the most quietly understated yet powerful piece in this collection. A single blood shot eye pierces through what initially appears to be smoke but then begins to form the gaunt face and unkempt hair of his sitter.
A week later, still feeling a little haunted I decided I had to find out more about Nathan Ford and of course the best place to start is Google? right? I immediately found the artists website, an online portfolio of Ford’s drawings and paintings. Ford’s drawings could sit comfortably amongst those of Nicola Hicks and Frank Auerbach however they also possess a slightly exaggerated illustrative quality which the drawings of both Hicks and Auerbach do not. I also discovered that Ford’s practice was not (as I had assumed) limited to portrait painting but also featured landscape and still life paintings. I believe his paintings speak for themselves (so I wont dribble excess praise all over my keyboard) but his collection of child portrait paintings in particular has officially made me a huge Nathan Ford fan.
After taking in everything the website had to offer I decided I absolutely had to pester the artist himself. Much to my surprise Nathan Ford replied to my email and was quite happy to answer a few questions about his practice.
Your online portfolio features a selection of landscape, portrait & still life paintings. Which category do you find the most engaging? and why?
Whatever I’m doing I’m fully engaged in – until it stops being engaging then I stop, because there is no reason to continue when the enthusiasm is gone. At exhibition time I’m aware of the variety of subjects that the paintings may cover but as I’m bumbling through life and painting all the categories blur and are often linked in ways that are not always obvious. I did a close up painting of my son (just head and shoulders) and he looked at me in a certain way. I would know that look even if I couldn’t see his features, so I did a painting of him in the distance silhouetted by a light box bus shelter advert. One painting would be classed portrait the other urban landscape even though their genesis is the same.
Who (or what) inspires you as a practitioner?
I don’t really know. I could reel off a list of artists I like, but the truth is stuff just comes from where ever I happen be. Logic tells me this is to be expected. My kids feature quite allot now days just because they’re here I’m here and they’re on my mind much of the time.
How important is drawing within your practice?
Drawing and painting are inseparable in my world, drawing is key to everything I make.
When would you say your artistic career began? and how did you go about getting your work noticed?
I started entering competitions before I started art school. 2000 I got into the bp awards, from that I was contacted by Beaux Arts and have been showing with them ever since. I could give you my extended history but its not that interesting. In the early days I was riding the wave knowing one day I would have to think about getting a job. Now I think I may be able to avoid the whole work thing altogether.
Throughout your career have you ever regretted your career choice?
I love what I do, I never chose it as a career, it just so happens it brings in enough money so as not to have to think career thoughts. I left school and started a yts apprenticeship in panel beating. I hated it, after a year my mum said why didn’t I do the art thing at college while I had the freedom and was living at home. So I did, I never planned to actually make a living out of it. I think if I had gone forward with the thought of money, my decisions my have been different.
What are you currently working on? and did anything in particular inspire these works?
As mentioned the one of Reuben (my son) at the bus stop. Like many parents I have nightmares about losing my children on busy streets, in train stations. I have the natural anxieties of parenthood I paint about my fears… Along with other stuff.
Nathan Ford will be exhibiting with the 20/21 Art Fair, Royal College of Art (London) this month.