Jeffrey Ford is an American writer whose fiction combines elements of traditional fantasy or magic realism with surrealism and horror. As a student at Binghamton University, he studied with the novelist John Gardner and until recently taught at Brookdale Community College in New Jersey. His work has been nominated for and received many awards, including the World Fantasy Award, the Edgar Allen Poe Award, the Hugo and the Nebula Award. His short story collection Crackpot Palace was recently published by Morrow/Harper Collins.
The cover art for Crackpot Palace was done by Jeffrey’s son Derek Ford, a talented artist in his own right. Derek is currently a junior at the New Hampshire Institute of Art, where he is studying painting. His work has appeared in publications such as Fiction, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, Last Drink Bird Head: An Anthology of Flash Fiction, and Postscripts.
We’re delighted to feature a brief interview between Jeffrey and his son Derek about his art, followed by selections from Derek’s portfolio of work. - The Editors
Jeffrey Ford: How did you get into art?
Derek Ford: When I was a kid I did a lot of drawing, drawing with pencil, colored pencil, crayons. As far back as I can remember I drew all the time. My subjects were frogs, The Terminator, Captain Hook, orangutans. I got most of the images from movies and TV shows I watched. I was never much of a reader, so I didn’t look at books all that often when I was really young. I’d become obsessed with certain images and draw them over and over again — different versions of them. I think I was trying to get the image a certain way that I envisioned it in my mind. I remember the metal of the Terminator’s face when he’s in the flames and the fire is reflecting on his robot face — I’d be fixated on something like that. I’m not sure around what age I was, but it seemed as if at one point I became conscious of what I was doing, and then the images weren’t so much about getting them precisely how I saw them, but more about creating stories with the drawings, whether they were exactly the image I had in mind or not. There were long picture books I’d draw, with pages and pages, that told a story. I’d write in them too and the writing was fucked up because I had dyslexia and wrote backwards and left letters out. Eventually these stories, although never written down, about fantasy places became a very involved universe, all connected, and I’d draw the images that I saw from them. It wasn’t until high school that I began to actually think of art, in other words, pictures I was making that were for other people to look at. Then I drew a lot of surreal stuff for a few years, out of my imagination. In Junior Year of high school I became interested in different forms like Cubism and Renaissance and Baroque painters.
Jeffrey: Do you have an interest in the Weird, and how does that impact your art?
Derek: The Weird has always interested me in my art and in the works of others that I like. For instance, take the figure of Humpty Dumpty, which I’ve done a number of pieces based on. Humpty is creepy, in that he’s a guy who’s a giant egg, wearing suspenders and short pants (although there is no mention of him being an egg in the original nursery rhyme). He’s tragic, because he falls and cracks and people are trying to reconstruct him, but it’s all in vain. There’s irony in it as well. So Humpty can be at the same time an image for kids, a simple nursery rhyme, or he can be seen as a strange creature, whose story is tragic and ironic. The Weird contains conflicting ideas and emotions pulling you in different directions and leaves your mind in a place that isn’t any one of those single emotions and I like that experience. I especially like to get that feeling in the more narrative paintings that I do.
Jeffrey: What artists are you looking at now?
Derek: One the artists that I’ve been interested in lately and has had some influence on the work that I’m doing is Max Ernst. He uses techniques to make initial uncontrolled or random marks, from which he then fashions an image. He calls this decalcomania. For instance, he’ll take two non-absorbent surfaces, put wet paint or ink on one surface and then press the other non-absorbent surface onto it. When he pulls it away, it leaves the paint in an abstract configuration. From that configuration, he will then derive a painting. What’s interesting about it is that two different people would get two different ideas as to what painting to make from the abstract image. The abstract image becomes a conduit for your own unconscious imagination.
Jeffrey: What are you working on lately?
Derek: I’ve been painting on plexiglass and using frames that are light boxes so that the light shines through the image from behind in order to make the highlights. An example of it in the images displayed here would be the Tulip King. A computer screen has less of a range of values from light to dark than a painting does. The Tulip King picture with the light shining through it has a greater range of values than the computer screen, so the computer image reduces the range of possible values to something that can be represented. That’s why the image of this painting the gallery is showing online seems somewhat washed out. If you looked at the actual piece you would see a painting with a larger range of values than most paintings have, since standard paintings only reflect light, but this one is both reflecting and giving off light.
Jeffrey: I know you like to listen to music when you work; why and what do you listen to?
Derek: I do like to listen to music while I work. I have a pair of headphones that are pretty good. I find that the music allows me to zone out while I’m working and at other times helps me to contemplate what I’m doing. I feel like the music allows me to do both of these things more efficiently than if I was in a quiet room. Also some of the musicians are great artists and their abilities inspire me while I’m working on my own. Bob Marley, Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin. All of these artists are innovative and very talented at the instruments that they play. They’re also good song writers and tell interesting stories which inspire the narrative aspects of painting.