Michael Ward: painter of the mysterious ordinary

Rancho Super Car Wash, Acrylic on canvas, 16×20

Michael Ward captures the “mysterious ordinary” in the true tradition of realist painters. His paintings makes you travel to southern California with the eye of a Hopper. The scenes are sunny but they bring out a certain sense of nostalgia, of the time passing by and in some paintings of suggested loneliness.

He went from being a photograph to a painter with great talent. His next trip will take him to Paris and who knows what will inspire him there? Thanks for sharing about your work Michael!

Tell us about yourself: Where do you live? What is your background? I live in Costa Mesa, California. I was born in Montana, and spent my first twelve years there, before my family moved to Long Beach, California. I lived there until my late twenties, when I moved to Orange County, first to Dana Point and then to Costa Mesa, where I remain. In my Long Beach years, I spent a lot of time walking around, then driving around southern California. My father gave me a camera, and I began photographing things that caught my eye. I had some professional photographer friends, who encouraged me in my picture taking.

Joe’s Coin Shop, acrylic on canvas, 14×18

Tell us about your art and your artistic path. In the early 1980s I made a painting of one of my photographs, mainly to see if I could do it. Photorealist painting was beginning to get well known at that time, and I was influenced by John Baeder’s watercolor paintings of diners, and Meisel’s coffee table book on photorealism. I used the materials I had at hand, which were illustration board and gouache, which I borrowed from my day job as art director. Those early paintings were mostly of old signs, which were a favorite subject of the photorealists. I brought one of these sign paintings to work to show it off, and someone offered to buy it. That was my first painting of the Pink Elephant sign in downtown Long Beach. I happily sold it, though I later regretted letting it go. I stopped painting for a while, as life events intervened, but about a decade later I realized I could get that painting back by doing another one, which I did, this time in acrylic on canvas. I have been painting ever since.

Beached, Acrylic on canvas, 18×24

Can you describe your artistic process? If you mean how I actually make the paintings, it’s pretty straightforward. In the early days I would project an image on the canvas, outline it in pencil, and begin painting, using a color print for reference. That allowed for only minimal alterations of the source image, so the paintings were pretty true to the original photographs. When the computer came along, I was able to do more manipulation, adding or removing elements for the sake of composition or to better fit the canvas. Until recently I used pre-made canvases, which only come in a limited number of sizes. Once the image is composed on the computer, I print it out at full size, and using graphite paper transfer it to the canvas. I generally give the canvas only one or two coats of gesso, so the surface is fairly rough. I find the texture helps me achieve certain effects, like rough concrete or asphalt. I work from top to bottom, laying in the sky (if there is one), and from back to front.

Who are your favorite artists or influencers? There are a lot of artists I admire, starting with Vermeer. The Ashcan school is an influence, especially as to subject matter: Sloan, Bellows, and Hopper of course. Then the photorealists, chiefly Richard Estes, but Robert Bechtle as well. I’ve also been influenced by photographers, such as Robert Frank and Stephen Shore. And even though they are not realists, Richard Diebenkorn and Wayne Thiebaud have influenced me as well.

Consequences, Acrylic on canvas, 24×30

How do you get inspired for your new creations? That’s hard to say. I have an archive of photos I’ve taken over the last 40 years, starting with slides and now digital images, and I dig through those when it’s time to start a new painting. What I end up choosing is not always what I planned on. For the last few years I have been exhibiting at the Laguna Festival of Arts, a 2-month long art show in Laguna Beach, California. For that I need to fill a 16ft wall with work, which can be a challenge, since I only paint part-time. So I have to consider what can be painted in a reasonable amount of time, and what will sell. But I try not to let those considerations dominate.

Do you have an anecdote that you’d like to share? When painting from photographs I often make little discoveries that were not apparent when the source photo was taken. The process of minutely examining each bit of the image reveals much that is missed by just casually looking at something. For instance, in my painting “Riviera Parking” it seems that some lazy person has parked his car on the lawn. But a closer examination reveals that the owner of the house has given away the back yard to the furniture store next door to use for customer parking, so that his tenants must either park on the street, which is metered, or as Mr. Cadillac has done, on the lawn. So what appears at first to be slobbishness is actually an act of desperation, or defiance. 

Llamame, Acrylic on canvas, 11×14

What is the question you’re asked you the most? The most common question is how long does it take to paint a painting. The answer is anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 months, depending on size and complexity. Then they say “you must have a lot of patience” but patience doesn’t come into it—painting is it’s own joy, so it doesn’t matter to me how long a painting takes. It’s always a bit of a let down when one is finished.

What is the question you’d like to be asked? “How much for all of these?”

What are your projects for the coming months ? Just more paintings. I’ll be travelling to France this year, and I hope to bring back some images that I can turn into paintings.

To know more and follow Michael

website : tmichaelward.com

tumblr,  blog  & instagram

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