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Gordon Onslow-Ford

British
(1912–2003)

Beanstalk
1960

Parles paint on canvas
121.125 x 37.125 in. (307.658 x 94.298 cm)
Gift of the Marie Eccles Caine Foundation
1988.137

In 1951, while walking among the redwood groves in Northern California, Gordon Onslow Ford had the sudden insight that the line, the circle, and the dot were at the root of all art. Through study of calligraphy with Zen master Hodo Tobase, the artist also learned that they were the fastest lines one could make.

Beanstalk was the first large-scale painting that Onslow Ford made using Parle’s paint, a pioneering water-based product that dried quickly, allowing him to freely apply numerous coats, one over the other, yet obtain a spontaneous image. He experimented with versions of it as early as 1958, and from about 1959 until the late 1960s, all of the artist’s line/circle/dot paintings were in black and white and used Parle’s paint.


Onslow Ford painted Beanstalk on the floor of his studio with paint thrown from a container. He worked without a preconceived plan, one mark leading to the next. His intention was to combine an active meditative state with spontaneous creation, while revealing the vibrations he intuited between the two poles of the universe, one black, and the other white. The soaring vertical painting is a tightly woven and layered web of dancing particles. It suggests the experience of voyaging through cosmic space as well as inner worlds, a recurring theme of the artist’s work.


Although Onslow Ford had been a member of André Breton’s celebrated Paris surrealist group from 1938 to 1943, he felt that line/circle/dot was his contribution to modern art. At the time of his discovery, he was highly influential as a founder of the postsurrealist Dynaton group along with Lee Mullican and Wolfgang Paalen in San Francisco. He worked with the line/circle/dot system in some form for the rest of his life.

Susan M. Anderson


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