Prepare to Go Ape for Walton Ford’s New Watercolors

(Photos: Christopher Burke, courtesy Paul Kasmin Gallery)

What’s nine feet tall, twelve feet wide, and dangerously emotional? The face of King Kong, as depicted by Walton Ford in three massive new watercolors that will be unveiled this evening at Paul Kasmin Gallery in New York. The artist based the primate portraits on the 1933 monster adventure film starring a satin-draped, constantly screaming Fay Wray as Ann Darrow, who catches the eye of Skull Island’s mysterious gorilla-beast. “The Depression-era Kong was misshapen, not modeled on any living ape. He has an odd, ugly, shifting charisma like Cagney, Edward G. Robinson, or Bogart. Naturally his women screamed in terror,” says Ford in a statement issued by the gallery. “The grief of the original Kong is the grief of the unloved, and like Humbert Humbert or Frankenstein, the grief of the unlovable.”

When titling the works, the artist borrowed Wray’s line, delivered behind shielded eyes to her human lover: “I don’t like to look at him, Jack.” Meanwhile, Ford’s monumental Kongs are impossible to look away from, with impeccably detailed faces contorted in varying combinations of anguish and fury. “These paintings are about Kong’s heartbreak,” says Ford. “I wanted to reveal the monster’s grief, his enormous sadness, the sorrow that the original Kong kept hidden from view.” The solo exhibition, on view through December 23 at Kasmin, also includes six new, monkey-laden meditations on a passage from the memoirs of John James Audobon. The colorful paintings bring to life an episode from the ornithologist’s childhood in which he watched one of his mother’s pet monkeys snuff out another one of her pets, a parrot. “This made,” wrote Audobon, “a very deep impression on my youthful mind.”