Interview by Megan Wilson (@shegotgame)
The artist collaboration is a mainstay in fashion, both streetwear and high end. For éS’ latest capsule collection, they’ve teamed up with Mark Ward, a London-based graphic artist and illustrator. Ward is known for creating bright pieces driven by 1980s and 90s Americana, but with his own personal twist. As part of the partnership, Ward designed a pair of La Brea sneakers, four t-shirts, jackets and a cap. He’s also putting the finishing touches on his new exhibit entitled “As Seen on TV” running to August 18, 2011 at Kemistry Gallery at 43 Charlote Road in London.
We spoke to Ward as he was finishing pieces for "As Seen on TV", getting his views on skate culture and his partnership with éS.
How are the preparations for your “As Seen on TV” exhibit with éS?
Good. I'm just painting my last piece now. I'm working to the bone but I'm really happy with how it's coming together. I've made three sculptures, I've never really done sculpture before. I'm just trying to push my work. I've been given this opportunity by eS, so I'm just trying to push my work as far as it can go.
Where did the concept for your exhibit come about and how does it represent your own interpretation of Americana?
The plan was that this show traveled because the story of the show is me growing up in England in the suburbs of London looking at America as this amazing place. I grew up watching Hanna-Barbera cartoons and and as an impressionable youth you start believing in a way that this might exist. Then when skateboarding came out...the whole reach of the culture really brought up all those feelings again. I hadn't been to the states at the point and and it was the foreign appeal, the grass always being greener on the other side. All this being pre-internet I had no actual ability to see if it did exist. So this show is kind of piecing those fragments together of that distorted view of that world that I wanted to exist. When I went to California and skate spots it was raining when I went there and I realized the ledges weren't as smooth as they looked in videos. It kind of made realize that the world I wanted to exist, seems to only exist in my head. I'm trying to create a visual language out of all that pop culture that I was exposed to. That's one of the reasons why the show is planned to travel to America. It seems to be a far away land with all these fairy tale creatures like all the cartoons and skateboarders came from there.
When did you really start expressing your love of Americana through art?
I was always the kid at school who was drawing all the time.All the cereal boxes characters like Fruity Loops, it was so eye catching. Then Channel 4 started showing NFL coverage. I started drawing the Miami Dolphins logos and all that. The Americana caught on very early. When I went to St. Martins I was studying advertising, I thought I'd get a proper job. I decided to do advertising as there was money in it. And I got a job as a junior art director. The environment of the office wasn't for me. I was commissioning stuff that I wanted to be doing myself so I left after 6 months and then I went to work for Stussy. It’s [Americana] just something that naturally evolved.
I started doing skate graphics and doing a few basketball things in there. I was trying to put it back into the artwork that I was going for other people and maybe rub off some of that era in my artwork. From one show into another show, your style gets a little more defined and now I have this show coming out it seemed like a perfect opportunity to use as a launch pad to explore it and after this I can go off on another tangent. It will still be connected to Americana but it might be different elements.
The skateboard was the one piece of Americana I could obtain and use and everything else is on TV - you can't actually participate. I could get a skateboard. That's probably part of the reason why I'm so in love with skateboarding, It's like a souvenir of that whole world.
It's like peeling back that gloss of Americana and showing the reality of it but while celebrating the love for it. I'm not trying to shit on it at all….I’m just trying to celebrate it but showing the reality at the same time.
Do you have a preferred artistic medium?
I use spray paint because it gives me a flat color without any brush-marks in it. And that goes back to the saturday morning cartoons and the board graphics and an element of graffiti. Then I use Indian ink or this acrylic ink that I found that doesn’t leave brush-marks as well. So when people look at it they think it's printed.I'm after that perfection. When people look closely, they see the human flaws and errors. It plays back to that perfect world and when you look closer you see the cracks in it.
How does it feel to work with a brand like éS?
It feels amazing. When I get an email from someone on a skate-related project... it rings excitement in my gut. It just brings the whole world of Americana together. It's great as well living in London being able to contribute to that scene that is American-based….When you work on Nike or someone like that it doesn't always have to be connected to that world of skating. It's always nice to have that in your tool box and be able to apply that to other things. I think I've made it my own...it's nice to be able to add that touch to add to projects.
How do you decide which projects taken on?
When someone says it's an artist project. And it's like, “Ok if you want me and put my name on it, you have to let me do what I do”. If it's more of a commercial piece like Mountain Dew you've got to work to a brief. They're working with me so they've got my aesthetic in there. You've got to be malleable to what that job is. You can put ideas forward but they have to be aware that they won't always be accepted. When it comes to artist projects you kind of have to stand your ground. I've never been in that situation where someone's asked me as an artist to do some stuff for them and then change it. If I ever was, I would be standing by my art.
How did the éS collaboration come about? Which came first: the product or the exhibit?
They offered me the opportunity to do a shoe and it was a bit of a blank canvas. I told them I really wanted to do a show, so why not do a show and tie in the shoe? I ended up with a shoe and a whole bunch of apparel. It's kind of for that older skater. I’m 30 now. I'm not 21, unfortunately. It's a little bit more mature. A cliche British thing is tweed, so I've used that as a base material in both the shoe and apparel. The shoes skate really well so I’m really happy with them. On the outside it's grey, like the reality. And on the inside it’s black and yellow TV static - a bit like how my head is.
What were your favorite sneakers growing up?
There was one shop where I grew up so I used to just buy everything I could afford at the time. Everything that was American. I just grew up wearing what the average skater kid wore. Baggy jeans, I used to live in hoodies. I used to wear a lot of Eric K's (Koston) stuff. It was semi-hard to find over here. And if you wore it was like you knew a little bit more about the culture than the kid wearing the standard off the shelf skate shoe, you feel like you're a little bit more intelligent. I wasn't really the chain wallet wearing punk rock kid. I was more subtle than that.
What's it like to make something that people will skate?
I never really saw myself as a shoe designer. It's not the first shoe I've ever worked on but it's the first proper skate shoe I've worked on. It's exciting to put a shoe on you've made and to skate a board you did the graphics on. To be honest, my skills on a skateboard have never been as good as I wanted them to be. I feel like I might have cheated the system somewhat by getting my name on a skateboard.
Do you have to change your work at all when you do apparel or shoes? Or is it the same approach?
The way that I approach clothing is that it has to be wearable - you don't want to look like a clown walking down the street. It also depends on the audience. I've done stuff in the past for Burton and snowboarders tend to wear more bright colored things while skaters are more jeans and t-shirts crowd. You want your stuff to sell but you also want it to stand out. It's more that classic men's silhouette. Men's fashion is more about the details than changing the whole silhouette. When I'm painting a canvas because no one has to walk around with it on their back. I'm not asking someone to buy it, I painted it because I wanted to paint it. But you don’t hang a shoe on the wall you wear them on your feet you've got to think a bit differently.
What do you hope to accomplish in the next little while?
After this one, I've already got ideas written up on the wall. It's just a matter of starting the work. I don't think I'm ever going to be satisfied. I'm going to be doing more shows. Hopefully there will be more shows stateside and London as well. I'll see where it takes me. I'm interested in creating more personal work than another collaboration. I've collaborated with a fair few people now and I'm happy with who I've worked with, I'm trying to create that language of Americana and see where it takes me.
Anything else you want to add?
Thanks to my wife Catherine for all her help. Everyone at Kemistry Gallery. And thank to the guys at éS. And thank you [Complex] for the opportunity!