Love and Jump Back
Photography by Charles Henri Ford and Items from His Estate
Mitchell Algus Gallery
Curated by Allen Frame
Oct. 30, 2020 – May 15, 2021
By MARK BLOCH, May 2021
A crude way of saying it would be that Charles Henri Ford’s greatest achievement was his very glamorous position as a look-out perched atop the 20th Century avant garde culture heap. Some would find such an assessment appropriate because they lack the patience to wade through his dense body of work as a poet, author, publisher, collagist, filmmaker and visual artist. Others might simply lack an appreciation of recent history. But the Mitchell Algus Gallery, with some keen curation by the photographer Allen Frame, has replaced these lazy dismissals with an artful presentation of Ford’s breathtaking work in photography in Love and Jump Back.
Subtitled Photography by Charles Henri Ford and Items from His Estate, this show highlights a career that has been called significant only by association. But the striking portrait photography and archival materials shown here turns some of the most mythic subjects of the 20th Century including Ford himself, into elegant but intimately depicted human beings projecting erudite but accessible expressions. Apparently when Charles was present, these movers and shakers shared the feeling that they were among friends.
Ford teases us with a succession of penetrating glimpses right into the souls of his own personal soiree that stretched over many decades, eliminating the time and space that separates us from them while he connects dots between transformational modernist epochs. Ford knew illustrious Parisians and Surrealists like Andre Breton, Paul Eluard, Gertrude Stein, Carl Van Vechten, Djuna Barnes, Kay Boyle, Mina Loy, Jean Cocteau, and Jean Genet, internationalists like Karen Blixen, Lawrence Durrell and Paul Bowles, talents whose sensibilities, like his, that straddled both sides of the Atlantic such as W. H. Auden, and Joseph Cornell, all-American artist Paul Cadmus, the architect Philip Johnson, and a Who’s Who of Modern poets: William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens, Marianne Moore, and E. E. Cummings. He once called his friend Henry Miller a fake while Ford built his own world around his lover, the painter Pavel Tchelitchew.
Later, looking to a younger generation he knew composer Ned Rorem, poet Ted Jonas, Beat writers William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, as well as Ray Johnson (who later designed a cover for Djuna Barnes' Nightwood and who is featured one of Ford's color photographs in a current exhibition at David Zwirner Gallery), Andy Warhol (who named his Interview Magazine after Ford's View) and his Factory regulars Gerard Malanga and Paul Morrissey, Ford learned his craft by watching his friends, groundbreaking photographers like Man Ray, Sir Cecil Beaton and George Platt Lynes.
Born in Brookhaven, Mississippi and followed by frequent relocations, February 13, 1913 to Charles L. Ford and his wife Gertrude, a proper family who owned hotels in four Southern towns, Charles Henri was a brother, lifelong sibling rival and a bit of a codependent doppelgänger to the model turned stage actress Ruth Ford, who helped premier Sartre’s “No Exit” and was a lifelong friend of William Faulkner. In his teens, Charles Henri had two poems published in the New Yorker, after which he published poetry in various little magazines the rest of his life, dropping out of high school in 1929 moving in 1930 to New York, where his good looks earned him meaningful looks from the Village’s gay Bohemia. Here he founded a channel for literary experiments, Blues: A Magazine of New Rhythms, an avant-garde experimental periodical which turned out to be mere practice for a much more influential journal in the ’40s: the very important View magazine which provided crucial unveilings for Genet, Vladimir Nabokov, Marcel Duchamp and many others during its seven year run.
Ford’s trans-Atlantic voyage after he created Blues landed him in an expatriate community in Gertrude Stein’s Paris where he took an apartment with U.S. writer Djuna Barnes and helped her edit her novel Nightwood. Together Nightwood and his own major experimental novel, "Love and Jump Back,” a working title from which this exhibition draws its name, established a new genre of literature focused on the gay scene. That 1931 work, co-written with film critic Parker Tyler, was published as The Young and Evil and then banned in the United States for its blatant homosexual subject matter.
Next, Barnes introduced him to the Russian emigre painter Pavel Tschelitchew in 1932, and Ford committed himself to his relationship with “Pavlik" which was to last for the next 23 years until Tchelitchew's death in 1957 of heart failure in Rome. Simultaneously, from 1940 to 1947, Ford and Tyler published View. The magazine provided a forum for the distribution of Surrealist ideas, especially in the United States where the individual issues devoted to highlighted artists spread Surrealist writing and painting to new audiences.
Also during the forties, Ford also published four books of poetry. Following this animated burst, a less active period of drawing and painting in gouache and oil resulted in solo exhibits in Rome and Paris. It was during these years, dividing his time in those cities as well as Connecticut, New York and later Greece and Tangiers, that Ford devoted himself to photography.
A series of "poster poems,” followed in the 60s and more poetry books in the 70s, this time influenced by Andy Warhol's Factory. Also influenced by Warhol, Ford made two movies: Poem Posters (1966) and Johnny Minotaur (1972). A movie about him, Sleep in a Nest of Flames by co-directors James Dowell and John Kolomvakis, documented his journey and was released in the final year of his life. Charles Henri Ford died in New York City on September 27, 2002.
Ford never stopped creating. He executed poetry haiku collaged from found phrases and lettering in later years, with a steady interest in Eastern spiritual practices propelling him forward from the early 80s. In 1972, in the dining room of the Kathmandu Hotel, Charles Henri Ford met a waiter, Indra Tamang, and hired him as a personal assistant and cook. In 1974 Charles brought Indra to New York, where he has lived ever since in two rooms at the Dakota apartment building that had been passed on from Ford’s sister and her husband the actor, Zachary Scott.
Ford lived energetically into his 90s, connecting the present to that former era, one of the last surviving aesthetes, spinning gossip and anecdotes about the luminaries he encountered in his long life. Ford kept journals and diaries from 1932 until 1967 that, with a vast collection of other papers, are housed at the Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin. His most valuable output, however, including these striking photographs and other memorabilia such as drawings by Tschelitchew that were shown in an exhbition last year at David Zwirner Gallery in an exhbit curated by Jarrett Earnest called The Young and Evil, have been retained by Indra Tamang and thankfully lent here to the Mitchel Algus Gallery where they are displayed with a grace that complements their splendor. They document early intermedia “happenings” in dance and costume and a rapport with his “social network” that elegantly foreshadow later innovations and cast an illuminating light on Mr. Charles Henri Ford. WM
Mark Bloch is a writer, performer, videographer and multi-media artist living in Manhattan. In 1978, this native Ohioan founded the Post(al) Art Network a.k.a. PAN. NYU's Downtown Collection now houses an archive of many of Bloch's papers including a vast collection of mail art and related ephemera. For three decades Bloch has done performance art in the USA and internationally. In addition to his work as a writer and fine artist, he has also worked as a graphic designer for ABCNews.com, The New York Times, Rolling Stone and elsewhere. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and PO Box 1500 NYC 10009.
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