Walton Ford brings the style of 19th-century naturalists like John James Audubon into the present day, employing their aesthetic conventions in the context of his own, more contemporary investigations of uncommon wit, spellbinding narratives and breathtaking beauty. On October 8th, as the New York Academy of Art’s 2013 Take Home a Nude® honoree, Walton Ford will be honored for his mastery of traditional techniques central to the Academy’s rigorous training. Ford’s Bosse-de-Nage study, 2013, created expressly for the event, is currently available in the New York Academy of Art’s Take Home a Nude® auction on Paddle8. We spoke to Ford about his work and inspirations.

How did you become interested in natural history and human culture as subjects?
I grew up in a family of amateur naturalists. My family hunted and fished and I made early trips to the Museum of Natural History, which were formative experiences. Most of my childhood was spent in suburban environments cut off from nature. Therefore the idea of wilderness became a sort of fantasy realm for me.

What is it about extinct animals that fascinates you?
With regard to extinct animals I am interested in finding visual metaphors, allegories and narratives to explore obscure corners of natural history. I am primarily interested in animals as they live in the human imagination. This naturally leads me to be curious about animals whose extinction was brought about by man’s activity.

Where do you find inspiration?
In books.

What is your process?
I read, I find a story about a human/animal interaction, I make drawings based on that story until I come up with an image that I find compelling. I then make a large scale drawing on a large sheet of watercolor paper and I start applying watercolor washes until the painting is finished.

How does your work relate to what else is going on in the contemporary art world?
I’m not sure that my work relates at all to the contemporary art world.

Do you collect anything e.g. art or anything else?
I collect books, old prints, old postcards and I buy way too many clothes.

Any books or quotes that you would like to share?
Right now I am reading “The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals” by Charles Darwin. It is the first popular science book to use photographic illustration to further a thesis; that thesis being that humans and animals share a basic emotional framework.

Why are you supporting the New York Academy of Art?
Because I live in TriBeCa down the street and because they have asked me. The students and staff have been very sweet and supportive of my work. It’s a good place.

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