Kevin Ford: Ids of March at Tops Gallery, Memphis

By April 23, 2024
Installation view of Kevin Ford’s Ids of March at Tops Gallery, Memphis. Image courtesy of Tops Gallery, Memphis.

Following the opening of Kevin Ford’s Ids of March on March 15, many of Memphis’ drivers (who have, no doubt, already seen it all) found themselves mooned by a painting. That is, while driving downtown along Madison Avenue Park, it’s impossible to ignore Ford’s impressively large butts, glowing orange in Tops Gallery’s parkside vitrine. As a reasonably well-mannered Southerner discouraged from making crude jokes, and a cusp Gen-Z-er involuntarily aware of “optics,” I found myself smirking at Ford’s amusing––and for some, insulting––paintings. Beyond their flashy colors and so-soft style lies a tactful humor, a playful invitation into the physical world.

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As one descends into the Front Street gallery, the concrete walls are adorned with redolent images: loosely clasped hands held in vivid blue, a ghostly face concealed by a mop of white hair (simply titled Goth (2021)), a classical nude, and white flowers floating in delicious, artificial green. Made with acrylic on jute, canvas, and panel, Ford’s various surfaces lend themselves to each subject, building a visual cadence between slow and scumbly, fast and slick. As Tops points out, “There is some distance between the paint and the object,” referring to the loose articulation of each subject. These are landmarks and signs, granting access to both memory and fantasy.

The back wall of the main room is entirely covered by the formidable This Be The Verse (2024): in which a hand points confidently into a blurred open book. In contrast, a deluge of smaller paintings is arranged on the adjoining wall, each image competing for our attention. There are two distinct visual intensities: the force of one monumental image, and the dazzling chaos of infinite scenes. Verse has a certain reverence, empty of words though reminiscent of reading a book, inspiring the now seemingly obvious thought that while I remember having read many books, I can’t recall what a single one actually looked like on the inside. Viewers are presented with an essential experience, a necessary physical object forgotten in the face of imagination.

Installation view of Kevin Ford’s Ids of March at Tops Gallery, Memphis. Image courtesy of Tops Gallery, Memphis.

A presentation employed in several of Ford’s previous exhibitions, the salon hang of Ids of March gestures to an experience of intense consumption or obsession. It is a tool for illuminating modern life and its infinite scrolls where, as Tops describes, we are “constantly served chaos, but that chaos is rendered vividly and in HD.” One is struck by an assortment of desires and instincts: blurred fingers, buttocks, a banana, an oyster, blossoms and all the renderings of pleasurable sensations––water and sunlight, painting and touching. These evoke a fundamental hunger, the sensations one experiences before words come in to describe and confine. Yes, these paintings are sexy, but they’re also earnest: Coldfingers (2019) needs no explanation and Caaaaaat (2024), well, that’s exactly how it feels to pet one as it stretches its spine below your hand. This visceral display leads to the overall success of the work’s existential provocations (which, one is reminded, do not require complicated subjects). Ford’s paintings are as loose and ephemeral as the ideas they’re born from and adding to, and yet, they are essential. One doesn’t need the “real thing” to have a reaction, only some small trace of it.

Throughout Ids of March, Ford appeals to our animal instincts and first impulses, from the made-you-look posteriors of Madison Avenue to the sensory overload of the salon wall. His fourth exhibition at Tops, this body of work reflects an elevated visual language, allowing viewers to shift easefully between stimulants as they are thrilled, delighted, embarrassed, enticed, and activated. Ford invites all these associations, asking: What do you see? Is it real? But first, he had to get your attention.

Installation view of Kevin Ford’s Ids of March at Tops Gallery, Memphis. Image courtesy of Tops Gallery, Memphis.

Kevin Ford’s Ids of March is on view at Tops Gallery, Memphis through May 18, 2024.

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