David Ford, Perception, 2009, Mixed Media.

Jim Leedy, Earth Lies Screaming, 1999, polymer foam.

Pablo Picasso, Guernica, 1937, oil on canvas.

When Art Speaks to the Cognitive Dissonances of History

Nancy Spero, Love Peace Glory, 1968, Gouache and ink on paper.

David Ford, Your Face Here, Acrylic on Canvas, 2008.

David Ford, Wonder, 2010, Rope, styrofoam, pigment, 15 x 12 x 16".

David Ford, Secret War Plan, 2012, Acrylic on canvas, 72 x 60".

David Ford, All Suffering Soon to End, 2012, acrylic on canvas with tape, 40 x 30".

MarkReigelman and JennyChapman, Manifest Destiny, 2012, Installation.


Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
4525 Oak Street
Kansas City
David Ford
May 11, 2012


I have always had a difficult time reconciling Davide Ford’s work to a single piece. On their own, I often feel something is missing to the left or right of me and that feeling is assuaged when all the works exist alongside one another, incorporating installations and live performance with everything bleeding over walls, floors, and into other rooms you confront the intentions writ large. Ford is no navel gazer.

His oeuvre can send one down a rabbit hole. One thought leads to another, which leads to another and through it all you start to really question mankind’s motivations. But above it all, Ford places his faith in the truth. “I am a patriot…where we come from and where we can be,”

These pictorial artifacts as a non-blurring of gallery work and live performance is on the money. They are a re-assemblage of place in which the individual is “present beneath every accident or event” to loosely paraphrase the late French philosopher, Jacques Derrida. Our life is theatre and that is how Ford plays it for us. Whether we’re in the audience or onstage, the reverberations of events, however they unfold, continues. That is, if we are conscious.

His work, his talk asks us to wonder. If this is the path upon which we are meant to travel? Sor should we not stop and ask why this path is before us? Can we not change it? Should we not change it? Or risk this direction and simply go forward?

On Friday, May 11, artist David Ford was the fourth, and final speaker, in a series of Talk and Tours at Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. And as expected, it did not disappoint.

His themes of otherness, immigration, race, homosexuality, manifest destiny, and Native Americans are a body slam, forcing a good hard look at both American and world history.

In the great westward migration, for example, the slaughter of Native Americans in the name of progress has been accurately depicted many times. Earliest settlers considered it God’s will, a divine plan that John Gast’s American Progress (Oil on canvas, circa 1872) is represented as an allegory. Here  Columbia, the poetic and historical personification of the United States before being replaced by the Statue of Liberty, moves as a ghostly and ghastly symbol of civilization headed west. In her wake, telegraph wires, pioneers and other symbols of modernization follow while Indians and wildlife run for their lives.

An installation in San Francisco, Manifest Destiny is a temporary structure (447 Bush Street, SF, CA. until through October 2012). from Created by Brooklyn-based artist Mark Reigelman, in collaboration with architect Jenny Chapman, it. “seeks out areas of unclaimed territory for establishing a new home front in the (city’s) remaining voids of San Francisco, California.”

Hanging forty feet in the air, the structure is created with vintage building materials and century-old reclaimed barn board from Ohio. Called “a romantic spirit of the western myth and a commentary on the arrogance of westward expansion” it recalls Ford’s own Mission Accomplished (Acrylic on paper, 2007) — the final bastion of migration completed, a soldier raises a a glasses to his vainglory.

Filled with varying translations and interpretation to the tragedies of war does bring to mind, is Guernica (Pablo Picasso, oil on canvas, 1937) Bringing Illuminating world attention to the Spanish Civil War, it responds to the suffering the war inflicts upon all. If Picasso’s politics may have been confusing (Picasso once said to Jean Cocteau in reference to the communists of whom he was a member: "I have joined a family, and like all families, it's full of shit"), this anti-war symbol is not. Conversely, Kansas City master artist Jim Leedy, portrays the aftermath of war much more plainly. His opus The Earth Lies Screaming (1999) is a 50-foot long wall sculpture composed of bones, skulls and limbs made from foam that does not shy away from symbolism, but also comes straight to the point.

Nancy Spero (1926-2009) devoted five years of work creating War Series (1966-70). Representing her disgust with the Vietnam War, these are small gouache and inks on paper, "executed rapidly, represented the obscenity and destruction of war. The War Series is among the most sustained and powerful group of works in the genre of history painting that condemns war and its real and lasting consequences."

A favorite installation of mine from Ford is Intractable Positions (2009, Mixed media). A Palestinian and Israeli flag are boxed into a corner. Neither can move forward without the other one following. Since both nations refuse the role of supplicant, it is there they will remain until a solution can be discovered.

Conversely, Lawrence, Kansas-based sculptor Matt Burke brings up Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s 2005 site-specific installation, The Gates. As he says in a Facebook conversation, “The people who came out to walk through the gates ranged from people you never see in the street–the beyond super rich-to the middle class, to the down and out nuts, homeless, wandering. I've never been in one space with that broad a demographic. I believe it created a polis (city in Greek) that was unique, rare, and momentary. The "politics" of the work was the "polis" it created.”

Ultimately, Ford takes responsibility for his work, but once the viewer takes the space, they enter the void and one is put upon to understand. He stands alongside a long line of artists whose work tells time, not in hours or seconds, but in life-changing events. Critic Philip Yenawine may have once said, “art probes the mysterious” but art also tells the truth and over the centuries, artists have been the messengers of truth, both good and bad.

David Ford, Mission Accomplished, 2007, Acrylic on Paper.

David Ford, Intractable Positions, 2009, Mixed Media.

David Ford, Persephone, 2011, installation.

James Rosenquist, President Elect, 1969, oil on masonite.

David Ford, Mecca, 2007, acrylic on paper.

John Gast, American Progress, circa 1872.


Detail of Maximon Performance and Installation, 2001.

Detail of Maximon Performance and Installation, 2001.

Mediations on the Truth of the Bad Habits of the Workers of the Night

Detail of Maximon Performance and Installation, 2009.

Detail of Maximon Performance and Installation.

Detail of Maximon Performance and Installation, 2007.


Studio Space, Second to last door
Alley between Baltimore and Wyandotte
Kansas City
Thursday Night, October 23, 2010


David Ford is really two people — an animal of art on one hand and, on the other, a foodservice mogul who relaxes at night, donning velvet brocade slipppers, reading the evening newspaper, and smoking a pipe. He regales his slew of children with stories of the Crimean campaigns, some won, some less successful, but be assured he hauled that shark back to port all alone in his little rowboat.

He's a man's man, though he sometimes dresses up in caftans and turbans, which makes him an artist's artist.

"Be regular and orderly in your life so that you may be violent and and original in your work."

— Gustave Flaubert

But I digress, we're here to talk about Maximon — San Simon. In the early days of European empire in Meso-America, back when church fathers in their bloodlust onslaught of auto de fés, were burning the Mayan Codices (forever destroying numerous insights into the successes and failures of Mayan empire), the inflicting of Christian saints into the post-apocalyptic Mayan world was off to a rocky start when unconvinced pre-Columbian civilizations, instead of part and parcel adopting Christian saints, instead merged them with existing pantheons of gods and near-gods. Wikipedia tells us "the "man in black" seen on many Guatemalan folk charms is Maximon (pronounced "Mashimon"), a local deity also know as Hermano San Simon, "Brother Saint Simon Peter." Maximon is actually a pre-Columbian Mayan god of the underworld formerly known as Maam ("grandfather"); his modern name is a conflation of Maam and Simon. Contemporary images do not depict the deity himself, but rather a life-sized carved wooden statue of the god dressed in 20th century clothing. He is portrayed as a mustached man seated outdoors at a crossroads (see Robert Johnson), wearing a black suit, red tie, and wide-brimmed hat."

Maximon, with netherworld origins, was the patron saint of bad habits. The rituals and celebrations about the saint-deity evolved and translated into other Carribean and Gulf of Mexico cultures including Cajun.

So here we are on the eve of Day of the Dead, 2010 and David Ford is getting jiggy with it. Of course, a lot of money will be spent on sharing bad habits and vices with Maximon, around which a chemically-excited group of artists, arts professionals, flaneurs and a few city fathers caught up in the culture of the night will likely party like it's 2999.

This is the tenth year of Ford's immersive performance installation of his passion play, "Maximon-the backward" in which the patron saint of vice will be activated by elaborately costumed and festooned actors and Kansas City’s Mardi Gras Krewes — mostly comprised of performing and visual artists. They create a framing device for “The Saint.”

Maximon, traditionally represented as a wooden relic and maintained throughout the year with offerings of tobacco and greenbacks, serves as a redemptive or protective source for the prostitutes and gang members of Guatemala. Ford brings this sacred Mayan deity to life.

In 2001, Charlotte Street Foundation, an organization in Kansas City dedicated to the support of visual arts, funded the first public exhibition of Ford’s Maximon. The Tanne Foundation in Boston in turn awarded Ford with a non-restricted grant for future projects. Charlotte Street director Kate Hackman says, “... his performance work hinges on tensions and interplays between seduction and repulsion, the imagined and the actual, “here” and “there,” “us” and “them.”

Six years later, New Yorkers got a preview of Ford’s “activated” installations and soft performance when he and twenty-four co-conspirators took over Jack the Pelican Presents in Brooklyn to stage Maximon. The Village Voice covered the one-night exhibition with a full-page review.

A self-taught artist, Ford has been exploring the painterly in everyday contexts for over 20 years, incorporating diverse ideas of beauty culled from his travels in non-European societies and a discordant, political humor. Ford’s deliberately rough technique and visually ornate imagery lends a folkloric air to compositions and collages of deities and corporate logos, dreamy landscapes and catch phrases that implicate the viewer in a collective search for meaning. His work is shown nationally and internationally, with solo shows in Kansas City, MO, Mexico, and New York City. Critically acclaimed in Art in America, Art Papers, and Flavorpill, Ford has received awards from the prestigious Creative Capital Foundation, The Charlotte Street Foundation, and the Tanne Foundation. His work is included in the collections of New Orleans Back Street Cultural Museum, the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, Nelson Atkins Museum of Art, and others.

Known for his paintings and sculptures, Ford has directed immersive performance installations that draw equally from traditional celebrations such as religious rituals and Mardi Gras parades, and current event scenarios of secret prisons and heightened security measures. These performances have become new rituals in their own right, connecting an artistic community and initiating collaborations with clergymen, exotic dancers, marching bands, Mayan Indians and a demolition derby.

Detail of Maximon Performance and Installation, 2009.


Detail of Maximon Performance and Installation, 2001.

David Ford, Relax, installation view, Dolphin Gallery, Kansas City, November, 2009.

The Sound of Your Fear being Negotiated, Heard through a Keyhole

David Ford, Negro Jam Session, 2009, Acrylic on paper, 22 x 30".

David Ford, Perception, 2009, dimensions variable.

David Ford, Your Fear, 2009, unique photograph, 55 x 57".

David Ford, Bouquet (background, right), 2009, mixed media, 132 x 72 x 48", Perception (foreground).


Dolphin Gallery
1600 Liberty Street
Kansas City
David Ford RELAX
November 20, 2009-
January 9, 2010


David Ford unleashes a spiritual stampede of all the elephants in the room. Fully self-taught, his paintings, mostly acrylic on canvas or mixed media, are an allusion to, and a smack at, secular differences. Cinderblock walls create borders and enclosures throughout the space, adding further gravity to this exhibition. All can be conceived as an amalgamation of first world cultures merging head-on with third world customs.

Hanging in the first of two galleries is Your Fear (2009). Just those two words in silvery glitter seem innocent enough, but as you drink in the rest of the show, there appears the more portentous Negotiation (2009). The soldier blue paper is soothing and the colonial figures shaking hands appear an indication of some mutual agreement between the two that things are bound to change. However, in Cowboys Die (The Swagger of Entitlement) (2009), acrylic on vintage paper, those words alone speak to an intrusion of white man on Native American soil, making that previous handshake somewhat sinister. Further along illuminating a vast cultural shift, the diptych, Shine Shine (2009) inspired by South African oilcloth, and the name itself “is an African slang term for (President) Obama and the way they feel about him,” a reaction to changes coming far and wide.

Perception (2009) mixed media, an antique Islamic rug separated by a cutout shape, also an Islamic reference. Peering through it so close to the floor gains a new perspective on the next, the largest, gallery. It's a clever look linking worlds and cultures that at one time seemed to have no bearing on American lives and are now strongly part of the political and cultural vernacular.

In this second gallery the biggest installation are man-made cinderblock walls a bit over five feet, with two small paintings hung inside — Good Morning (2008) and We're Coming (2009). They could not be seen unless you crossed over the wall where, during the opening night, Kansas City musicians from Mexico and another Hispanic couple preparing food held court. There was room to cross over and no signs telling you not to, which provided an interesting conundrum. Could it be construed as ones own prejudice — with white people and their wine on one side of the wall and non-whites on the other — that prevented one from crossing over to discover the paintings? To be amongst the cooking food and music might also have been transformational. Conversely, it could also be the fear of being observed rather than an observer, free to turn your back and walk away. Still and all, Ford made it your choice whether or not to cross the barrier. If you did cross the wall, what did you see?

Above that is another interpretation of Your Fear (2009). A unique photograph taken by the artist at the 2008 American Royal Parade (Kansas City, Missouri) “as part of an ongoing project examining projected associations. The uniformed women are a part of a High School ROTC program and caught (Ford's) eye for the diversity of participants in what could be thought a homogeneous setting — i.e. Muslim officer(s) in training.” One girl has her head cocked, lips pursed as if she were saying “Got your attention now, don't I!” Another girl gives the peace sign, somewhat cocky — but the fear can be hers. She is, after all, the one who is possibly going off to defend our freedom and how will we thank her?

Cinderblocks in the main gallery are propped up with piles of fluffy cotton. Nature may be in line with our need to build walls and keep paradise to ourselves, or at least belief in paradise. Those not in line with those building walls are perceived as an enemy. A good example is Intractable Position (2008) acrylic on wood. Two flags — Palestine and Israel, are boxed in a narrow corner with no way for either to emerge together without one following the other.

Yes (2008) is a Muslim paradise. Rich red mountains are strong as the pinks within are comforting. Small prayer rugs and waterfalls float There is a serenity that takes us to a place of utter believability. Unlike Tom Cruise (2009), with a narrative that seems religious construct with references to “maybe” and “other” as a nod to other religions “including Scientology, Christian, Hindu, Islamic and Native American beliefs.” But it is the celebrity that floats off the canvas into ether, losing its luster. The idea of it becomes more real than the actuality.

Dolphin Gallery seems to exist with a national scope in mind and is the right environment to experiment with such ideologies. While YJ's Snack Bar in the Crossroads Arts District is arguably Ford's best work for the community it fosters, the environment of Dolphin nicely showcases his paintings, mixed media and installations as it was intended. An artist can dream writ large in a space like Dolphin and realize it.

David Ford, Relax, installation view, Dolphin Gallery, Kansas City, November, 2009.

David Ford, Relax, installation view, Dolphin Gallery, Kansas City, November, 2009.

David Ford, Your Fear, from I Like this Country.

The Circus Comes to Town, of Vice, Men, Women, and Patriots

David Ford, I Like This Country.

David Ford, I Like This Country.

David Ford, I Like This Country.

David Ford, I Like This Country.


The Mercy Seat
210 East 16th Street
David Ford. I Like This Country
November 7, 2008


There is something significant about a performance piece entitled I Like This Country that takes place on the evening of a General Election resulting in the naming of the nation's first African-American president, an event that even before results were in had earned "transformational" status in the cntext of the short social history of the U.S.

Maybe Ford intended the title in an palliative sense, in case transformation did not win the night. Perhaps the emphasis is on "this" as in "I like this country — not meaning a nation with borders at all, but an anti-allegory of Plato's cave, where the prisoners are able to turn their heads from the shadows of events projected on the cave wall and view events directly. It is, after all, about the event and the participants, including the prisoners.

But we shouldn't be over-philosophical about a celebration of those things that good citizens just don't do — enjoy exotic/erotic dancers, shots of liquor, scantily clad men and women, AK-47s, a smoking postmodern jazz band, and biker security.

By the way, pretty much everyone in attendance had voted that day — a generally-accepted definition of good citizenship — but forget about that — it was a night for vice and consideration of those things that make us gentle animals, only striving for humanity.

However, the Platonic allegory is inescapable: it was dark and loud; there were paintings on the walls; there were furries "just hanging out;" and a man with an automatic rifle guarding against re-entry through the egress.

In keeping with the timing of the event was an animated light box arrangement of an unfurled and flapping-in-the-wind U.S. flag viewed from above (are you God watching or are you watching God?) positioned directly in front of the exotic dancers. (Which do you want to watch?)

On one wall was an array of Ford's repackaged, shrink-wrapped, framed-in-plastic thrift barn "bargain" paintings. On another were slices of white bread marked with monosyllabic, single-word epigrams.

From the outside, the Mercy Seat venue was hard to miss, even driving north on Grand at 16th, with its sodium-lit gargantuan Patton set-piece American flag that covered the front of the building.

Getting in was no easy task either (a David Ford conceit), that involved being photographed and signing a liability waiver that warned of "POSSIBILITY OF DISORIENTATION," "RISKS OF STROBE LIGHTING," and "CLAUSTROPHOBIA."

If there may have been a moment of nostaghia for those who participated in the 1960s, there was also a sense of empowerment for those who have tired of looking away from the sun and seeing only shadows. Once the liability waiver ritual was over and done with, there was still a "velvet rope" hurdle manned by two burly bikers, Deadman and Thrasher, who monitored the entrance and the rate at which viewers were allowed to go in.

On entering, one was presented with a shot of tequila, a pounding beat, two exotic dancers only a few feet away speaking in writhing motions, as a cage fight barker, directed all that there was there to see, including a shoebox size television set broadcasting election returns.

It was altogether like the Henry Miller cadenza of yeses from Tropic of Capricorn. A performance is a happening in the sense that it occurs in a cosmic moment that is not necessarily the present. The cosmic moment resonates beyond linear time’s present and cosmic entropy gives way to cosmic ectropy.

David Ford is Kansas City’s token autodidact, an epithet that profoundly underestimates his practice and position. In short, he is not an acedemic artist. This central plains city craves academia for purposes of legitimacy. It is a cowtown that nurtures academic art and academic ideas because of their dearth to the neglect of humanities that don’t take up the hue and cry of civic boosterism and confirm the great and glorious good fortune of being able to make art iunder a bushel in the backwoods.

There is fortune in making art in this country’s northernmost southern city, southernmost northern city, easternmost western city, and westernmost eastern city. That fortune is that it’s cheap to live and make art there. And if you give the rubes who just fell off the vegetable truck a little gentrification and a few condos, they will buy into the idea of art made by circus monkeys.

The truth is that good art can be made and found anywhere, including Winnemucca, Nevada — or even in Cupcakeland.

As far as I Like This Country is concerned, if you missed it, it's still playing out in another dimension in the cosmos.


Roger Ramjet (in robes) sees that a liability waiver is signed, from I Like This Country.