Ten years before Jackson Pollock did likewise, Gordon Onslow Ford dripped paint onto a canvas and called it art. Onslow Ford's experiments with black-and-white paintings led to the invention of acrylic paint; his patronage helped launch Roberto Matta and Picasso; he hung with Magritte and Miró; and his work directly influenced Motherwell, Rothko, and Pollock. So why is this California artist so unsung?
Rowland Weinstein, who curated the Onslow Ford retrospective now showing at his Weinstein Gallery, calls the painter the "Forrest Gump" of the art world, "because he was so many places in history. But he's not as well known as he should be."
In truth, the artist was the architect of his own obscurity. Independently wealthy, he was so wary of outside influences creeping into his work that he almost never sold his paintings. Only a fraction of the canvases he produced over more than 70 years have ever been exhibited.
Admission is free
The Weinstein showing, then, is a rare and breathtaking treat. It covers the artist's output from his abstract California landscapes of the '50s through his magnificent early-'60s black-and-white op art and on to the spacey swirls and swooshes of the '70s and '80s, each piece displaying his signature focus on circles, lines, and dots – the figures he thought best revealed the unconscious mind.
The jewel of the collection is There There One, a large canvas covered with layers of dark and light scrawls that create a central black circle. In less talented hands it could have been a formless mess, but Onslow Ford imbued the 1961-62 painting with simplicity and balance, creating an arrangement that's impossible to ignore. The canvas has already been sold (along with more than 50 others from the show).
Sadly, Onslow Ford didn't live to see this enthusiastic reappraisal: Early last month, the artist died following a stroke. But his legacy adorns the walls of the gallery; don't miss your chance to see this irresistible Next Big Thing.