Sleepwalking Towards the Apocalypse
recent prints by Peter Ward
by Loris Button
Walk into a space filled with Peter Ward’s prints and you immediately feel uplifted. The majority are highly coloured, joyous even in their immediate impression; however look more closely and it is evident that the richly layered imagery is reflective of a deeply pessimistic view of the future for both humanity and the world we inhabit.
There is a dichotomy here in that many of the prints are the result of the pleasure involved for this artist in playing with his exuberant colour sense, with composition and with method – but far from being simply about making a pleasing picture, Ward is intent upon conveying what is frequently a seriously scary message. As Alison Alder tells us: “Ward is a thoughtful composer of ideas, illustrating his concerns regarding the state of the world [and in doing so] critiquing society’s apparent desire to cut off its own nose despite overwhelming evidence of the foolishness of such an act.”
In Lost for example, the gorgeously ornate frame surrounding the central figure of St Sebastien, is in fact made up of a cleverly repeated image of a factory chimneystack spewing smoke into the atmosphere. And this message of environmental destruction is further reinforced with drones, a sinking car, more smokestacks and a mythical sea monster occupying the surrounding sea. In the evocatively named Doing the Apocalypse Boogie, hands become smokestacks, churches morph into factories, and cars and drones threaten to overwhelm us, and in High Capex, this text based work regurgitates mining industry speak; “High capex, low margin, big volume, long term payback” lifted directly from the financial pages of a national newspaper – so after a close inspection of these very attractive prints, you do get the message!
Ward is a skilled printmaker who is constantly testing the parameters of his chosen linocut medium through an experimental approach to materials and process. In a 2015 review, Sasha Grishen drew on the artist’s own words to explain his working method and the key ideas which underpin the imagery:
Process underpins all my work. I begin with collages of random images and thoughts allowing the collage, as it coalesces, to play its part in suggesting a theme. Preoccupations with self, social insecurities and despair over the environment are ideas which constantly reoccur and are generally treated in an ironic way.
This artist is never content with a single iteration of an image, all are articulated through different colour combinations and many are now printed onto fabrics to be reconfigured into large quilts – objects that usually signify warmth and comfort, but in this instance are the bearers of a most uncomfortable message. Single prints are assembled into related groups and large wall-sized works are created using multiple blocks for a single image, while still more prints are cut up and re-woven, resulting in imagery that positively vibrates with luscious colour and complexity. For Ward, colour is a tool that entices the viewer in, engaging attention in order to deliver some uncomfortable truths.
In the two most recent series, Post Modern Serfdom and Small Tunes, much of the imagery is more overtly grim and therefore more immediately challenging. Colour is eschewed in favour of black and white, before those same images are again recreated with Ward’s signature use of intense colour. Especially evident in the black and white iterations of this imagery, the two series bring to mind the graphic works of German Post Expressionists such as Max Pechstein, Käthe Kollwitz and George Grosz, great artists with a serious post-war message from another time when the world seemed hell bent on self-destruction.
Titles such as Earth Mother Gets Sold a Pup, Doing the Apocalypse Boogie and The Apocalypse Tattoo Parlour Does the Christian Democrat, are not only revealing of Ward’s preoccupations, they suggest the era in which this baby boomer grew up – in a post-war world which had suddenly discovered new and ever more destructive ways to make use of the earth’s precious and finite resources – with hardly a thought to the future we will bequeath to our descendants. As Alder evocatively suggests, Ward is: “Mining for images in the suburbs of the Australian mind.” In doing so Peter Ward reminds us in no uncertain terms that the Apocalypse is heading our way and it is well past time to wake up.
Adjunct Research Fellow, Federation University Australia
All images by Peter Ward
Sleepwalking Towards the Apocalypse, Swan Hill Regional Art Gallery, Horseshoe Bend, Swan Hill (VIC), 25 August – 15 October 2017 – gallery.swanhill.vic.gov.au
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