Todd Ford is a great artist who lives with his family near Dallas, Texas. I first saw his work online http://fordsart.blogspot.com/ and own two of his paintings. As of this writing, he’s painting fantastic, everyday objects like bottles, wrenches, spoons, etc. He actually makes objects look very sensual and vivid. In short, he gives things a very high definition look. Now, here’s Todd Ford himself in “High-Def.”
MICHAEL: Hey Todd, thanks for chatting. First of all, I don't often use the word "beautiful," but it's really the first word that comes to mind in describing your work. How do you describe it? Is "beauty" a goal for you?
TODD: Michael, thanks for inviting me to chat! Well, normally when I describe my work, I steer clear of all descriptive terms that flatter. I try to use more objective terms to describe my paintings by discussing things like: subject matter, composition, and style. But even that is hard to do sometimes. I'm sure this is due to preconceived notions about common terms we all use to describe "art". I cringe when someone asks me what I paint. Inevitably, that nasty little word "still life" comes up. Hopefully, when someone sees my work it will make the appropriate impression, without flowery hype. I definitely would have to say that "beauty" is a goal for me when I paint. But, that word is so subjective...what's beautiful? For me, it's strong composition, sound color theory, and bold value. That may sound academic and bland, but it's just what appeals to my sense of aesthetic. I believe beauty can be found anywhere, if you look hard enough.
MICHAEL: I agree. While beauty is something great to aspire to, it is very subjective if not very limiting for an artist. Again, I hate labels, but here I go again! Your work is very photorealistic to me. It's like you're saying to the onlooker, "I'm ZOOMING IN to give you the best view possible of this bottle or this car headlight." In my opinion, you paint everyday things in "HIGH-DEF." Your painting is almost photographic.
TODD: Photorealistic...that's another one of those nasty little words I try to avoid! I do agree that my paintings share some of the same traits as photorealism, but I think my work is far from being photorealism. But hey, I'll take the compliment! You're right. I do want to grab the viewer with an image that pulls them in. I want to show a familiar object in an unfamiliar way...as something that has importance. I want the viewer to be engaged...to take a little visual journey through the piece and then realize "Hey, I've been looking a painting of a broken beer bottle, or a little bottle with cloth stuffed inside". Hopefully, they will make the connection and "get it".
MICHAEL: Your work seems "super-real" to me because of the sharp focus on detail and perhaps the high-gloss or again, high-definition treatment. It's so VIVID. It's almost as if the work is saying, "This is the only real moment, so bask in THIS moment." It reminds me that if we're truly SEEING art (or anything for that matter), then we're living that particular moment to the fullest. If you're truly in the moment with art, whether you're viewing it or creating it, then you're fully alive. Aren't we supposed to be living "in the moment" anyway?
TODD: Michael, I totally agree. That is how I approach painting, and the entire process. Very few things compare to the level of satisfaction I get from smearing paint on canvas. I hope when people see my paintings, they experience a degree of that as well. I continually strive to create paintings that hopefully, will not waste peoples' time! I know when I see a piece of art that grabs my attention; I compare it to a big bowl of ice cream. I just want to grab spoon and dig in...savoring every bite!
MICHAEL: Are you a trained artist? How and when did you first begin painting?
TODD: I guess I would be considered a trained artist. I majored in art in college with an emphasis in painting and printmaking. I actually started painting when I was 11 or 12. I remember I was in the car with my mom, I don't remember where we were going, but we were heading into a spectacular sunset. Out of the blue, I told her I wanted to paint that. I had always enjoyed drawing and art classes in school, but had never painted before. Before I knew it, I was taking private oil painting lessons from a local artist about once a week. I took lessons for several years and learned so much in that time. I also took art classes throughout junior high with an awesome art teacher, Mr. Adair. High school art was also on my schedule all four years. As a kid, I took most of that for granted. As an adult, I realize how lucky I was to have parents who were so supportive.
MICHAEL: Aren't you an art teacher now? What's that like? I guess few artists are "full-time" artists these days.
TODD: Yes, I just finished my 13th year. Being an art teacher is a great gig! I teach at a large high school (approx. 2000 students), and I am also the art department chair. For the most part, I get students who actually want to be in the class. It's pretty easy for me to be motivated about what I teach too. Working in such a large school, we also see a significant number of really talented students come through our program. Like any job though, there are those days when I would rather be somewhere else...like in my studio painting.
MICHAEL: Many people might spot a dilemma here. Given the fact that many artists are almost always struggling and the current state of the economy, how responsible is it to encourage young people to pursue careers as artists?
TODD: Look at it like this: How many kids play a sport, like football while in high school? In Texas, that number is extremely high. Now, how many of those kids go on to play college football? Some, but definitely not many compared to high school. Now out of those college ball players, how many go on to play pro-football as a career? A tiny fraction of those players from college will have what it takes to make it. But, how many of those high school football players develop a love and passion for the game they will have the rest of their lives? I don't know any high school football coaches who would encourage their players to plan on playing in the NFL. How irrational would that be? Art education is so very important and not too different than the analogy above. Not only is it important to increase individual awareness, but to better our world we live in. My goal as an art educator is not to create an army of future artists, but to instill an appreciation and understanding of visual art. Most of the students who come through my art room will probably never take another art class after high school. But, some will. Some will go on to do great things.
MICHAEL: As an art teacher, do you notice differences between students (or people in general) who have some connection with art and those who don't? I don't want you to have to justify your job, so be objective if you can!
TODD: This is sort of a tough question to answer. Not to be too evasive, but I think the word "art" involves so many aspects of life. Things like advertising, web design, TV, movies, video games, product design, product packaging, fashion, decorative art, fine art, etc … so many things involve elements of art and design. You would be hard pressed to find someone who doesn't have some connection with art, whether they realize it or not! I just think some people are better at communicating why something is/isn't appealing to them, instead of the generic answer of "I just like it, or don't like it.”
MICHAEL: I agree. Art really is EVERYWHERE. It's not confined to museums or galleries. I'm constantly making connections between art and everyday life in my writing. It's my personal mantra, especially when it comes to everyday objects and experiences. Judging by your work, you obviously like everyday objects too. What is it about them?
TODD: The easy answer here is accessibility! But seriously, I don't know if I'm particularly drawn to everyday objects that much or if I just prefer to reject more traditional, overused subject matter. The objects I paint are more often than not, just a means to an end. I want to create a painting that invites the viewer in and allows the opportunity to take in the shapes, colors, and details that would otherwise go unnoticed, regardless of what it is. I have to admit, I do enjoy the process of taking modest objects and presenting them in a way that challenges the viewer. My main goal when it comes to subject matter and composition is to create something original. I want my paintings to stand out in a crowd (in a good way) and never be mistaken as someone else's work.
MICHAEL: Your work definitely stands out in a crowd. In a fantastic way. I'm sitting here in my den where your painting, "Grip" (18" by 24" oil on canvas)
is hanging on the wall behind me. As you know, I published this piece in "The Art of Everyday Joe: A Collector's Journal." For the sake of readers, it's a
depiction of a silver wrench partly covered by what looks like a silver, satin sheet. It's very sensual. The way you have humanized it is amazing. It's almost like looking at Marilyn Monroe reclining on a sexy bed. It seems that you're not just painting the object, but you're also creating our sensual experience.
TODD: Sure, the "Grip" piece! That was such a great honor to have one of my paintings included in your book. I can definitely see what you mean about it having a sort of sensual quality. The glimpse of the cloth paired with the chrome canvas stretchers is somewhat out of context and therefore creates a level of abstraction. The fact that the entire painting is full of curved shapes only reinforces the comparison to a sensual human form. I hope everyone who views my work can make their own connections like this! You're right on target. I don't want to just paint an object that is quickly dismissed...I want to create a painting that encourages visual engagement.
MICHAEL: What do you do when you're not painting or teaching art? Does your "off time" inform your art at all?
TODD: Well, when I'm not working (teaching or painting), I have all kinds of things to occupy my time. I try to make it to the gym a few times each week. I am "frame off" restoring a 1972 Chevy. I enjoy outdoor activities like backpacking trips, or just walking our dogs in the woods (Italian Mastiff & American Bulldog). But more than any of those things, I chase kids around the house. We have a 5 year old daughter and a 2 year old son. They keep me and my wife on our toes. My "off time" is when I come up with most of my ideas. I am constantly making mental notes, scribbling ideas down on scrap paper and sending myself emails. I almost never go to my studio to think about painting or what I will do next. When I step into the studio, I work. With kids, a full-time teaching job and everything else, I am thankful this process works for me. My time is what I make of it, so I try to be as efficient as possible.
MICHAEL: Finally Todd, I have to ask you this. Whenever I'm writing about art, talking with artists or doing something art-related, I feel like it's a soulful, labor of love. It's sometimes challenging, but never "drudgery." Do you ever feel that painting is drudgery?
TODD: Painting … drudgery? Absolutely not! I agree that it can be very challenging, and hard work at times, but who said it's supposed to be easy? I find the entire process incredibly satisfying. There are plenty of menial tasks to put up with in life. Painting is not one of them. Painting is a labor of love for me. It can be physically, mentally, and emotional draining at times, but I keep coming back for more!
MICHAEL: I understand completely. Thanks for chatting Todd. Check out Todd’s work on his blog at http://fordsart.blogspot.com/