Visual Arts
5:00 am
Thu April 26, 2012

Travel Fuels Inspiration For David Ford's 'I Like African Chicken'

David Ford is a painter, performance artist and provocateur. Ford also travels the world - to Mexico, Morocco, Guatemala, Cuba, and Turkey - for "on-site cultural studies."

A recent trip to Africa inspired new works on display in a solo exhibition at the Dolphin Gallery in Kansas City, Mo. In January, Ford traveled to Benin in West Africa for National Voodoo Day. He says it was a fascinating experience.

"This (Benin) is the one country in the world where Voodoo is the national religion," he says. "And it also has a 30% Islamic population. So there's there's this interesting synchronism between Islam and animistic Voodoo religions."

An "Aesthetic Agenda"

A native of Kansas City, Ford describes his paintings as "compound works, working on multiple levels simultaneously." He spends months on each canvas, but there's a look of spontaneity; he uses a series of repeated gestures, one on top of the other: "Every green is made up of 7 greens, and the blacks...they say that (Diego) Velázquez painted with 17 blacks. That's a real challenge."

Canvases lining the walls of a small room in the gallery include iconic images from the history of his home state, such as American Indians, cowboys and buffalo; there are also glimpses of slaves, sailing ships and colonial architecture.

One painting called "I Love Indians" is a stark canvas with three bison in the forefront of a "colonial prairie." For Ford, both the title of this work and the exhibition title, I Like African Chicken, are "incredibly politically incorrect statements." He points out that there are hundreds of American Indian tribes, and different countries in Africa have varying cuisines.

"For me, there's a level of humility when I approach the artwork," says Ford. "As an artist, I have to make to make that mistake first. And you're almost prostrating yourself to be open for the conversation.

"When you come up to these paintings, you can see my brushwork. You see the action that it took while I was working in the studio." 

Creative Inspiration

Ford has traveled widely for decades, exploring colonial influences in the New World. And each year, he takes his employees at YJ's Snack Bar, a small cafe in the Crossroads Arts District, on a trip.  He "prefers art that comes from culture, rather than the culture that comes from art. To be enlightened as to these other practices, non-Eurocentric art values, is an important part of my work."

A self-taught artist, Ford says he wasn't raised within the "rigor of study that others do in their disciplines." Three artistic influences include Merce Cunningham, William Burroughs, and John Cage.

He also takes inspiration from his performance collaborations with non-artists, like demolition derby enthusiasts, strippers, preachers, Mayan shamans, and African-American drill teams.

"Art can become focused back in on itself," says Ford. "And I'm really turned on by what happens in the world, through my travel or otherwise."

David Ford's solo exhibition, I Like African Chicken, runs April 27- June 23, 2012 at the Dolphin Gallery, in the Stockyard District of the West Bottoms, 1600 Liberty Street, Kansas City, Mo. 816-842-4415. Also on display, a solo exhibition by Anthony Hawley, and new works by Matthew Kluber and Miles Niedinger.