Henry H. Ward (b. 1971) is a London-based artist-educator-writer we recently discovered via the #artistsupportpledge on Instagram. Similar to the famous Abstract-Expressionist-cum-Neo-Expressionist Philip Guston, Henry H. Ward transforms mundane objects and landscapes into glorious abstractions.
Even if you don’t know Philip Guston (b. 1913), you are likely to recognize his work. When you see a Philip Guston painting you know that it’s…well, Philip Guston. It’s distinctive. It stands out. How did he achieve that? Well, his work is unique for the era in which it was created. Like many American artists of his generation, in the 1930s Guston worked for the government’s WPA program, where he mainly served as a muralist.
From the 1940s through the 1960s, Guston was a member of the New York School of Abstract Expressionism. The New York School, which included famous artists like Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, reacted to the atrocities of WWII. Abstract Expressionism abandoned traditional methods and recognizable subject matter to embrace the emotive and the psychological. Works like Painting, from 1954 reveal Guston’s uniqueness as an abstract painter, and his ability to create heavily impastoed, atmospheric and emotive works.
But Guston is not famous for these abstractions. Rather, he’s most well known for leading a movement from Abstract Expressionism to “Neo-Expressionism”, which embraces more representational, simplified renderings of personal symbols and objects. Neo-Expressionism continues to influences many artists today, including some that we have recently featured on the blog.
Paintings like City from 1968, and Untitled from 1969, exemplify Guston’s recognizable cartoon-like execution but also his sophistication. They also establish his recognizable color palette. These works also serve as a commentary on both the urban sprawl and decay that was happening in so many large cities across the country at the time. The Neo-Expressionist style allowed Guston to represent mundane objects like bricks, light bulbs, shoes, and cigarettes, and convey both socially relevant context and personal meaning.
London-based Henry H. Ward is a fascinating artist-educator-writer-curator who works in a variety of media, but predominantly in painting and drawing. His work evokes a synthesis of Guston’s abstractions, with their sophisticated compositions, and Guston’s later Neo-Expressionist aesthetic, employing cartoon-like forms and shapes that are not quite recognizable.
Ward’s painting, Blanket, demonstrates his ability to take a simplistic object and transform it into a sophisticated composition of line, shape, form, and color.
Like Guston, Ward offers his version of the contemporary environment around him through his own visual vocabulary. His painting, Scaffold, is a perfect example of how he brings these elements together and takes Guston’s aesthetic to the next level. One can make out scaffolding, but there’s also an abstracted cityscape with cartoon-like buildings against a grey sky.
Ward is impressive in his ability to combine just the right elements with his keen sense of color to create works that on the surface seem simplistic, but upon closer inspection, are gorgeous, layered moments of perfection. In particular, the way he handles the paint incorporating layering, glazing, wet-into-wet, and dripping, and creating worlds the viewer can get lost in, makes these works so alluring right now.