San Francisco

Gordon Onslow-Ford

San Francisco Museum of Art and the Rose Rabow Gallery

The museum has mounted an exhibition of drawings and watercolors spanning the years since 1938, and Onslow-Ford’s regular gallery, the Rose Rabow, has simultaneously hung his recent watercolors and plastic paintings to mark the publication by Abrams of a book by Onslow-Ford, Painting in the Instant.  (See “Books.”) Some of the earlier pieces in the museum exhibition are obviously derived from fashionable influences of the period—particularly Kandinsky. This is excusable on the grounds of youth, and it is correct and sound for the museum to have included these pieces, especially since Onslow-Ford has since exorcised all obvious evidence of this influence from his mature work, but has retained that random, nebulous, free-fall aspect which was so characteristic of Kandinsky, but is by now surely in the public domain. One might say the relationships within the paintings and drawings are based on similarity of line and form rather than any unity based on compositional projection or pattern. The result is textural painting. This risks an invidious comparison with textile design, and Onslow-Ford has not so successfully overcome this hazard as, for example, Tobey or Pollock, who took the same chance.

Some of the titles give the viewer a clue to the artist’s literary and romantic intentions: Flowers of Space, Seldom Star, Sun and Moon Tree, and Forest Tides. The nebulous composition seeks purpose in cosmological ideas. Several recent pictures at the Rabow are much more dense than previously, which tends to bring the image to the two-dimensional surface, thus making a more effective decorative painting.

Knute Stiles