EK Interview: Michael Ward

Michael Ward - Empty Kingdom - Art Blog

I love the modern day abandoned Americana mystique that Michael Ward’s work seems to be steeped in.  There’s a romance to it, the rich pastel colors seem to pop out and call to you to come visit these places that people walk but ignorant to the beauty Michael imbues them with.  We have the honor of featuring his work at the EK Summer Show, so come to The City if you can!

Michael Ward - Empty Kingdom - Art Blog

Please introduce yourself, where do you live now?

My name is Michael Ward. I live Costa Mesa, CA.

How do you see the stereotype of the lone artist, inhaling cigarettes and alcohol in solitude and often self imposed depravity? Do you think this is a harmful or hurtful stereotype for art world, both in it’s effect on the pursuit of art as a career and social comprehensions of artists?

The lone artist is a trite stereotype, though there’s a kernel of truth in it, for painters at least. A lot of time is spent alone, in front of the canvas. For me it’s a meditative respite from the cares of the world. The movie stereotype of the tortured artist flailing away, baring his soul, is also mainly fictive. The act of painting is rarely that dramatic, though the end result may be. I don’t know if these stereotypes hurt or help. People who are driven to paint will paint, no matter what the reward (or lack thereof). And those people who pay attention to art don’t pay much attention to the artists that make it, which, unless you’re a performance artist, is fine.

You began your career doing renderings of historical buildings, which buildings stand out? How did this beginning influence your current work?

I began by drawing houses, especially Victorian ones, which led me to search them out as subject matter. They’re abundant in a place like San Francisco, of course, but scarce in Long Beach, where I grew up. In the course of my searching I came across many scenes that would later become paintings, some of them Victorian houses, but most of then not. Discovering the past, as it coexists with the present, has always been an interest of mine. The fact that these worlds, these eras, exist simultaneously has always fascinated me.

Michael Ward - Empty Kingdom - Art Blog

How do you find mystery in the ordinary? What is something that you paused and marveled at this week? Who among your friends and family do you most often turn to in order to share the marvel you have found?

How you find the mystery in the ordinary is by paying attention. It’s all around us. Something I marveled at recently is this set of buildings in Norwalk, CA.

Though built probably in the 1920s, it’s virtually unchanged, even keeping the Iowa parking. Here’s what it looked like in 1948.

In this case there’s no real difference between then and now. I shared this, as I often do, with my long-time friend, author D. J. Waldie, who appreciates these little eddies in the river of time.

Michael Ward - Empty Kingdom - Art Blog

Is there a way to share the truly deep sense of import places of meaning have to us with each other? Where did you spend your summers, or christmas time as a child? Or was there some other time of year that was designated for a family trip? Where now do you take your family? Where were those places for your wife? Do you think it is possible to ever gift the full depth of the meaning those places hold to one another?

Obviously, painting is a way to share those places. They have resonance for me because I’ve experienced them, and they resonate with others because they evoke something in their own experience. My house paintings, especially, seem to call up feelings for a lot of people. Places they grew up in, or where their grandparents lived, or where that girl they had a crush on in Junior High lived.

This doesn’t quite answer your question, but I grew up in an era when just driving around was a common recreation. Cruisin’ the drag, my aunt called it. In the vast grid that is LA, you can take a street, as D. J. Waldie and I did, from one end to the other, maybe 20 or 30 miles, though an ever-changing variety of neighborhoods. Some of my best images came from taking Western Ave., or Vermont Ave., from “the mountains to the sea” as they used to say. It was even something my father would do, take my sister and me for a drive, though he usually got lost at some point. But the urge to just drive around was a powerful one.

Tell us about a special place you painted recently, what about it struck you? Would you go back? Do you find yourself returning to the places that you photograph and then paint?

Right now I’m working on a large painting of Ocean Ave. in Long Beach, based on a slide I took back in 1980 or so. It’s a marvelous combination of shops that were emblematic of Long Beach in that era, and the decades before that era. Long Beach was a Navy town, and catered to the needs of seamen on leave. So in my shot there’s a barber shop, a bar, a photo studio, and an adult bookstore, all side-by-side. The buildings are from the 20’s and teens, the shop fronts are from the 40’s and 50’s, the cars from the 60’s and 70’s. All gone, replaced by a faceless hotel, the Renaissance. Not much of a re-birth. Do I go back to places I’ve photographed long ago? Not very often. There’s much more unexplored territory yet to cover.

Michael Ward - Empty Kingdom - Art Blog

Where did you see the locations that were the inspiration for La Casa Blanca and Romy’s 1200? Did you talk to people in the area? As someone who seeks to show the marvel in the ordinary, do you ever pull people over or talk to the locals in the area about the place you are photographing?

Both La Casa Blanca and Romy’s Salon (the correct title) are in Santa Ana, CA, near the Arts District. Romy’s was a little white painted salon that I re-colored in a tropical style, inspired by my trips to Mexico. La Casa Blanca is a marvelous little building that I just had to paint. I don’t tend to talk to the locals; in both these cases I would have had to be fluent in Spanish, which I’m not. As I post these things on the web or display them at shows people tell me stuff about them, though.

Michael Ward - Empty Kingdom - Art Blog

Describe your scene right now, what head space are you in as you answer these questions, where are you? What did you do before and what will you do after?

Right now, the afternoon sun is hitting my monitor, and smoke from a brush fire in Huntington Beach is dissipating. Before, I shipped my paintings off to Minna via my Lebanese shipper Hal, and after I’m going up to Long Beach for tapas.

What is your favorite dessert?

That would be my wife’s flourless chocolate tart. Zap it in the microwave for 15 seconds so the middle is molten, add a scoop of creme friache, and it’s the perfect dessert.