From Personages to Radiant Beings

An overview of sixty-four years of Gordon Onslow Ford’s paintings, reveal that the personages in those paintings slowly and gradually transformed into Radiant Beings. Before Onslow Ford joined the Surrealists in1938 he was preoccupied with painting nature scenes and portraits. As his paintings moved from the landscape of the outer world to enigmatic images of the inner worlds, known images disappeared into transparent forms and live lines began creating a new world. Later he called this expression of inner realities, Inner Realism.1

In his early surrealist paintings, personages appeared in a form with distinct angularity or curvature. Although not recognizable as individuals they had a particular presence which communicated their gender and characters. These personages evolved as Onslow Ford explored deeper into the mysteries of the unconscious.

The personages in one of his first major surrealist contribution, “Man on A Green Island” (1939). 2 carried a clear premonition and a map of the vast territories of the inner worlds ready to be explored. In this painting the personage appears in the form of an angular figure sitting on a green triangle surrounded by multiple spaces of invisible and visible realities. The painter is alone, ready for a major voyage. The landscape is pregnant with possibilities; clusters of scattered lines and colors, beams of white lines and multiple horizons await a long journey of discovery. A seed of major exploration is planted and the traveler is ready to take off. Thirty years later, these forms and clusters of lines have merged into what he calls Live-Line-Beings.

These beings gradually evolved in Paris and during World War II, when he moved to England (1940), female personages appeared. This feminine aspect played an important part in many paintings later made in New York (1940-41), among them Temptation of the Painter and Propaganda for Love. Those earthly female image perhaps brought a message of creation in midst of destruction.

While living in Mexico (1941-47) the personages began to explore the mountainous and volcanic landscape of Mexico. In most of these paintings two personages appeared, a female and a male figure. These poetic “spirit presences” adventured into the Circuit of the Light Knight, Marriage, Communication in Depth, Birth of Venus and explored metaphysical landscapes.3 The lines and colors began to separate and the Beings appear to float into space. These early stages of the inner worlds, which Onslow Ford calls the “Inner Earth,” captured the invisible spirit of nature. Perhaps they were inspired by his love of the land and his then recent marriage to the writer Jacqueline Johnson,

When the couple moved to California (1947) the personages interacted with the California landscape. The beings in the paintings veiled behind the strength of lines inspired by the great red wood forest, slowly disappeared into the landscape. 4 What appeared was a formation of three primal elements: line, circle and dot. Onslow Ford’s discovery of line circle and dot (1951) as “an underlying ground of existence” impacted his work so greatly that he embraced these elements for eleven years. Asian philosophy, in particular Zen and Chinese calligraphy gave him the skill to enter more deeply into the realms of the inner worlds both in his paintings and his writings. In most Asian traditions, the transformation of personal ego is essential and is a natural evolution in the process of exploring deeper layers of the unconscious.

Although the line circle dot period (1951-1964) was devoid of any personages but a new emergence of images appeared. The paintings were no longer about exploring the personal unconscious, as the surrealist were preoccupied, but became the expression of the presence of the Mind. This meditative expression seeks direct transmission from the Open Mind directly to the hand of the painter. No longer is there one personage dominating. consciousness, separated from the landscape, but consciousness is in every line, mark and color.

In the mid sixties, the line circle and dots slowly merged into new Beings. These new Beings were the transformed personages reappearing in a form of Radiant marks with a new level of consciousness and were given a new name: Live-Line-Beings. Each Live-Line-Being is expressed with simple and direct brush stroke with color auras around it. These lines are made spontaneously and have a unique presence.

Since then, Live-Line-Beings have become regular “voyagers” in the paintings of Gordon Onslow Ford. To me these Beings are the silent voices of the universe carrying a message. Their message is an awakening of humanity to a new level of consciousness.

Fariba Bogzaran, Ph.D.
John F. Kennedy University


1. Gordon Onslow Ford (1980), Inner Realism in Gordon Onslow Ford Retrospective, The Oakland Museum, California. The current statement on Inner Realism (2000) could be seen in

2. A Man on A Green Island is painted in 1939. The artist’s comments on the paintings can be seen on web site

3. Circuit of the Light Knight, Marriage, Communication in Depth, Birth of Venus and Future of the Falcon are titles of major paintings and themes in the Mexico Period.

4. See paintings: The Great Hunts(1950).