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Gordon Onslow Ford; painted inner worlds of the mind

LOS ANGELES -- Gordon Onslow Ford, a visionary painter who searched for truth in the invisible, died Nov. 8 of complications from a stroke at his home in the Northern California community of Inverness. He was 90.

A dapper, diminutive artist of great charm and quiet confidence, Mr. Onslow Ford found his first muse in Surrealism but his mature work took a mystical approach that embraced Zen Buddhism and self-discovery. His signature paintings, mainly composed of circles, dots, and lines, depict magical galaxies or landscapes of the mind. He conceived of them as more than mere abstractions of the visible world; he called them revelations of "inner worlds."

The images in his art were "more real than what I can see," he said in a Los Angeles Times interview in 1993. Unlike the Surrealists, who were inspired by dreams and irrational aspects of the unconscious, he was captivated by what he called "realities behind dreams." To paint a dream was to paint a memory, he said. He preferred to look to the future, working spontaneously and conjuring "images we haven't seen before."

Mr. Onslow Ford was born in Wendover, England, into an artistic family. His grandfather was sculptor Edward Onslow Ford; his aunt, painter Enid Widdrington. He had a military education and served as a British naval officer for several years.

The aspiring artist moved to Paris in 1937 and briefly studied with Modernist painter Fernand Leger, but he had little interest in painting the precisely orchestrated arrangements suggested by Leger. Mr. Onslow Ford was more in tune with Chilean Surrealist painter Roberto Matta, who became his friend and introduced him to other Surrealist artists.

The artists scattered during World War II. At the invitation of a European expatriate group in America, Mr. Onslow Ford went to New York in 1941 and lectured on Surrealism at the New School. While in New York, he met and married American writer Jacqueline Johnson.

The Onslow Fords settled in the San Francisco Bay Area.

During his California years, Mr. Onslow Ford was known as a member of a three-artist group called Dynaton -- named for the Greek word for possible. With Paalen and painter Lee Mullican, he began to seek a new direction in art. "Dynaton," a 1951 exhibition of the artists' work, launched what Mr. Onslow Ford called "a quest of the inner worlds."

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