Anita Ford was a prolific and exceptional artist who worked continuously throughout her long career and produced numerous editions of original screenprints, paperworks, paintings, ceramics and monoprints. Her later works are amongst her finest and explore her personal anxieties and focus on her deeply spiritual journey towards the end of her life. The largest work ‘Spirit Faces’ comprises 60 individual mixed media drawings and will be on display at Wetpaint Gallery Chalford from 31 October to December 2021. A limited number of prints from the Spirit Faces are featured in our online exhibition and all the Faces are available to buy individually or as a set from Wetpaint Gallery Online.
This Spotlight feature includes some of Anita’s earlier prints and monoprints to provide a context for the ‘Spirit Faces’ and the later works. The interview below with Anita’s widower Alfred Huckett is an intensely personal account of how Anita was working during the final stages of her life.See all works Watch video
ANITA FORD – SPIRIT FACES Background and Questions
Q1. There seems to have been a turning point in Anita’s work around 2010 where she more or less abandoned her coloured work in favour of a much darker, monochromatic palette. Did this coincide with her move to St Albans? The last of the coloured monoprints seem to date from the period during and immediately after your travels around Europe on your boat, Reveller.
A1. It does seem that was the case, though there was an inevitable overlap as the last literal threads of the monoprints ran their course. It appears that the colours came indeed from the sea and sunnier climes, then returning home to work intensely in short time frames between resuming sailing again.
But St Albans was yet ahead and there was a bridge for her to cross from her west country life to being closer to me and the metropolis. The studio house presented difficulties in sale and it was an unsettled time with no home as such, and nowhere to work.
I recently watched a short film from this period when for a year or so we lived together. Working in a room that I had loaned her as a studio, she is working on one of her clocks. It is then that I like to think she began to generate her dark work. Works by artists are seldom in isolation but spring from different sources amalgamating, fusing and developing into new forms and ideas. The clocks were one of the threads but the key that opened, as it were pandora’s box came from another source.
Chance was a device which Anita had used I believe previously. Using papier mâché, a material that she was very familiar with she crafted a small rather exquisite pot of dice. In conjunction with a map of the British Museum she cast them to lead her into galleries and thence to individual artefacts. It started with an insignificant Lydian coin then to the Assyrian gallery and the Battle of Til-Tuba and on to clocks and all manner of exciting exhibits. All of these drawn in graphic crayon pencil and any implement capable of making an expressive significant mark, as not only was this a rejection of colour but a return to drawing. In a very short time the walls of the room were covered with highly detailed and mainly figurative images. Into this brew a few other items were thrown such as the mangrove thickets we experienced whilst in St Lucia.
I recall that she worked late into the night, uncertain where the work was taking her, both excited and daunted at having this period of open exploration, having worked so long to timescales and production. Later the work started to become more personal and focused as she became intensely aware of her increasing loss of hearing. In the clocks the lips became a feature developing into a remarkable body of work on hearing loss.
It was a desire again to reinvent herself. Revisiting and revitalising I believe is an essential staging in the development of an Artist’s’ career and this was a pivotal time for her, akin to coming across the Cormorants at the mouth of Bristol’s River Avon or discovering her Jodhpur blue in India.
Q2. The later works reflected her innermost thoughts, fears and anxieties and emerged from a deeply personal place, almost as if she was channelling something from another dimension. What was your experience of how they were created? How did she present them to you and what memories do you have of first seeing them?
A2. There is certainly fear and anxiety, but also a drive to understand and overcome these fears, ‘her demons’. I found them worrying but exciting. The strength and drive were palatable but I did at times seem to be losing her. Was this the shadowy approach of the great reaper?
Q3. Regarding the Spirit Faces, I seem to remember her saying that the first image was a fairly crude charcoal drawing done in her studio just before you set off for Japan and before her diagnosis. As far as I know she was not aware of the significance of this work or where it might lead. When she returned she told me that it was ‘waiting’ for her as if inviting her to challenge and explore what she now knew about herself and her condition. Is this your recollection of events or do you have a different view?
A3. I do not recall work on the Spirit Faces before Japan. On our return the frenzy as the studio in St Albans became alive and she continued developing her drawing skills working on exercises as well as on her original pieces. I seem to remember them developing slowly and privately. I do not think she realised what she had unearthed. She was almost embarrassed when she first showed them to me but they were strong and I liked them.
Q4. I believe she started on the final Spirit Faces partly in response to her diagnosis and what she was going through. Is this correct or was it just co-incidence that these works came about at the same time? Was there a suggestion at some point that the faces could represent her ‘spirit guides’ who were there to support her on her journey into the unknown or were they masks reflecting different aspects of her personality?
A4. This I know is true. In the last year or so she was spending considerable time on mindfulness, but then perhaps found in herself as an artist that she had her own personal tools to help her come to terms with her slow but progressive illness. In her art she could approach the angels and demons from her subconscious and also engage, through hints and reflection rather than portrayals of personal encounters through her life. It was as if she was trying to make meaning out of her own experience which I feel developed into a microcosm of humanity.
Q5. I know that, apart from your time on the boat, Anita worked constantly. Many years ago I remember her presenting me with a box of beautiful ceramic earrings that she had made and asking me to choose a pair. I asked her when she had managed to find the time to make them and she said ‘Oh, this is what I do when I’m not working!’. I believe that as time ran out for her she worked even harder and produced some of her most challenging and significant work. What is your memory of how she worked during the last year or so of her life?
A5. While she still had energy her work can only be described as frenzied if not obsessive. She would work late into the night and yes would do lightweight ‘fun’ things to take away the pressure. The earrings and later more zany and complex jewellery. Though even these had a dark side since this latter thread developed into the talismans – her personal crosses?
She once knitted me a couple of tea cosies which I still cherish. They are extraordinary.
If you left her in a room with the nuts and bolts of a lawn mower she would turn it into an art work. her ability to create was endless.
Q6. Finally, the later works and in particular the Spirit Faces, seem to resonate at many levels and provide space for quiet contemplation and reflection on the messages hidden in the expressions. It’s hardly surprising that the final exhibition you did together was entitled ‘Hidden Messages’. The faces seem to behave like magnets, drawing the viewers towards them and holding them in spellbound fascination. What are your feelings around the wider significance of these works and what kind of messages if any, do you think Anita might have wanted to leave behind?
A6. I believe the message in the spirit faces is that of wonder, of compassion. Of acceptance of the shortness of life’s journey and to give assurance as to whatever might be beyond.
With thanks to Alfred Huckett for his contribution to this special feature and for loaning the works from Anita’s estate for our exhibition.