Toby Ward



Toby Ward is one of the UK's leading contemporary artists, whose commentaries on numerous aspects of people reflect everyday life. Here he talks nature, nurture and crowded spaces.

All the places in my paintings I have somehow been a part of. They are composed of fragments of memory, rather than imagination. I often wonder what exactly imagination is - but I think you need it more as a scientist than as an artist.
I have learned not to pre-judge any kind of face when it conies to portraiture.
You can think of someone as magnificent and they can turn out as either terribly problematic or just very ordinary. Then you can find someone fairly plain who can turn out to be a real challenge. I used to pre¬judge these things, but I stopped as I was wrong so often.
I find the composition of numerous figures really intriguing. It's a fascinating problem. When one of my paintings includes plenty of figures - I find I work instinctively. I move things about; the work changes. If things come together quickly, I'm always suspicious.
I am interested in sport and in the physical end of human endeavour. I like extreme things. Yachtswoman Ellen MacArthur is an amazing personality. She would be wonderful to paint. Or mountaineer Chris Bonnington - he was a hero of mine when I was small.
If someone were to paint me I would like it to be Leonard Roseman. I greatly admire his extraordinary drawings of people.
The story within my paintings always happens naturally. If I have been too literal I will push the picture back into an uncertain phase. I don't want it to be too obvious. I like to make room for the viewer to decide.

I have about 10 or so "serious" self-portraits but I have plenty more that are sketched drawings. I used to always do a self-portrait to get back in gear between projects. I use two mirrors for my self-portraits, so I paint myself as others see me, and not as a reflection of how I see myself.

I have plenty of influences, living and dead. Bill Jacklin crowded paintings with figures. I have never found that influences hinder me. I have to spot the limits of a painting's helpfulness. You can pick up ideas but you have to know where to leave it.
My father was a draughtsman without equal, really. He could talk about drawing and tell you about how to do it. He was fascinating. There are similarities in our work, but we learned at opposite ends of the 20th century, so inevitably there will be differences due to that factor alone.

My sisters are both painters. Is it in our genes? There's a question; I suppose you can debate that all you like.

Artists & Illustrators April 2008

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