From gutter to gallery: Aleph Contemporary exhibits works by Henry Ward
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From gutter to gallery: Aleph Contemporary exhibits works by Henry Ward
Henry Ward, Medusa, 2021. 2m x 3.2m.

by Antonia Gabassi

LONDON.- There’s no figurative narrative to English abstract artist Henry Ward’s work, but what lies behind his latest show is quite a tale.

Henry Ward got the inspiration for his new body of work – on display in his big summer solo show ‘Baffle’ – from the gutter. Literally from the gutter.

Back in 2017, looking for stimuli to kick start a new series of abstract oil paintings, be decided to make little sculptures from random stuff he found on the ground when he was walking round the streets of London, where he lives.

He built up a large collection of “rubber bands, squashed toys, bent nails, bits of plastic, that sort of thing”, and then, on his kitchen table, fashioned them into ingenious little works of art.

“Unfortunately, the resulting paintings were rubbish,” he remembers with a smile. Fortunately, though, the act of making the sculptures – and he produced scores of them - led to a change in the way he painted. He found he was unconsciously incorporating the creative process involved in putting together the three-dimensional pieces into his two-dimensional work. “I was thinking about paint wrapping around other paint, or propping other paint up, or shifting paint to one side, so the paintings themselves started to take on a sculptural language that was informed by these little objects.”

Last year, unable to visit his studio, due to Covid restrictions, he was forced to paint in a “glorified garden shed” he had converted into a makeshift workspace. He found this cramped environment conducive to productivity: “There isn’t any heating, and it’s an uncomfortable place to be, so it becomes all about production. If I’m not painting, there’s absolutely no reason to be there.” He started working in acrylic, rather than oil, and on paper, producing “piles” of abstract works in his new style.

When he was allowed back into his (much larger) studio, he started arranging these pictures into ‘composites’, fitting them together in a huge grid-pattern, “like playing a giant game of Tetris”. Then, this time using oils, he would “paint them in”, to create a single abstract work. The resulting pieces, which form the basis of ‘Baffle’, are quite unlike anything you’ll ever have seen before: colourful dreamscapes that carry the eye on a series of aesthetically exultant journeys.

From gutter, to kitchen table, to garden shed, to art studio, to gallery wall, then? Not quite. Adelph Contemporary, where Baffle is exhibited – isn’t a gallery in the concrete, bricks-and-mortar sense of the word. It’s a virtual gallery, which means that wherever in the world you find yourself reading this article, you can go and see the exhibition straight away afterwards. If you do, look out for my highlight of the show, which was created in a slightly less randomised manner than the other ‘composites’: Ward has created, in a 32x32 grid, a gigantic version of Gericault’s The Raft of the Medusa, possibly the world’s first abstract shipwreck.

The exhibition is on view at Aleph Contemporary online 1 July to 30 September.

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