Toby Ward

 

Reviews

TOBY WARD is a painter whose Englishness deserves a place in every country house, but he is an unusual fellow. He paints people, hundreds of people, who do not exist and buildings and landscapes that never were. Everything (bar the portraits he has done) that he puts on canvas is off the top of his head, pure imagination.
This is odd, though not unique. Every artist who ever painted a crowd must, I sup¬pose, have made some of it up, though the choice is there to use models or photo¬graphs. But Ward not only fantasises crowds into being, at cricket matches, cycle races and City of London dinner tables, he conjures detailed and very real individuals in close-up, as in his chess series. Such studies are to be seen in a show this month at the Catto Gallery, to which I draw your gaze. None of these chaps exists, though they are immensely solid and English. All Ward's art is ectoplasm.

His landscapes, equally, are dreamland. They must be hard work. Copying what the eye sees is far easier. So why? "The unreal¬ity of it all is part of the point," says Toby, son of the late and much-loved John Ward RA, who shares with his father a deft, thin and nervous line in drawing and an acute sense of the idiomatic in English life.
"Who these people are does not matter to me; they are fragments of my memory.
 
Ward paints archetypal English scenes but they are all based on the imaginary
What does matter is the tradition they represent." Ward's paintings, £ 1,650 to £7,950, show luncheon and dinner tables, days at the races, cricket nets and cricket matches, rock climbers, cyclists and drinkers at the bar. All of them show people doing things, what Ward calls village effort. "These are ways of life. I don't paint them because I think they're under threat, for they are not. I see them as worth celebrating. I enjoy them; I see them as picturesque. I see im¬portance in people meeting together and doing things in groups. I don't like an England where people hide behind curtains." Or a France either, because Ward also spends time over there and likes and paints French traditions also.

Ward's communal life at Catto, with this agenda, is strong on types and social life, but in his portraits he has his father's ease and fluency with individuals and characters - HRH The Duke of Edinburgh is strongly flavoured - and an ability to bring out the Englishness in people. His art emphasises how much we have and feel in common, yes, even in the 21 st century.

The Field March 2008

 
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