Andrew James Ward

White Cloud Blue Mountain


 ‘The true struggle is with the duende, wrote Federico Garcia Lorca: ‘the duende is a force, not a labour, a struggle not a thought […] it is not a question of skill, but of a style that is truly alive; it is in the veins: meaning it is of the most ancient culture of immediate creation.’ In Scottish Gaelic, a person with this kind of creative energy is described as having an conyach. Andrew Ward has this conyach and his new paintings show us exhilarating visions – the rolling thunder of the Alps still shaping themselves – the pure calm of clay rising, as paint, beneath the artist’s hand. In this exhibition ying and yang are given permanent form.


Andrew Ward’s landscapes are a product of a Highland Scotsman’s long familiarity with mountains – in Scotland, in Switzerland, in Germany, in Italy. In fingered paint they stand – inanimate, radiating energy. They erupt, they extend forwards and backwards in time; they are part of the weather that shapes them, and us. In these paintings gesture and form become one; here the bow and the mark; inspiration, aim and achievement become one. Here is an artist who, in himself and in his work, demonstrates Gaia theory in action – all is process. There is a sense of tragedy in these paintings but also, more important, a visceral energy, a thrilling energy captured and released; here is the exuberance of life, here is the lightness of being, here is the lived moment:


These painted peaks – like animals shaking the snow from their shoulders – embody geological time but also put up mirrors to the history of mankind and the new Europe emerging. As the Scots poet, Hugh MacDiarmid, wrote in On a Raised Beach, ‘There are plenty of ruined buildings in the world but no ruined stones.’ Colour has been leeched from these paintings. Things have been reduced – only to be born again. These mountain landscapes can be seen as dramas of the human spirit, continuations of the kind of battle the film maker Stephen Macmillan documented when he filmed Andrew confronting his canvas and the elements in the Swiss Alps in 1999.


These paintings display a Gothic sense of the ‘terribilita’ of elemental nature. They are the kind of paintings that John Ruskin would have enjoyed. They suggest ‘elective affinities’ to which all peoples respond, but northerners especially. Andrew’s native Gestalt, however, is also classical, modern and chanceful. Here is an artist who opens windows onto a world in which proportion, beauty, seemliness do battle with the black Dionysian duende of which Lorca speaks, and the evident emotion behind each work displayed here is liberating – affirmative: art can bring order to chaos.


Andrew Ward’s paintings of pots are something else. Here time is suspended. Here contemporary vision embraces Neolithic simplicity of form. Here Cezanne’s petite sensation before nature becomes a Zen-like wonder and transcendent calm. Here, also, is a very twenty-first century artistic abstraction. As in the mountain paintings, the process, the medium one with the message. These paintings are surprising and new, yet, apparently, as old as anything said. They are at once ‘pure form’ and as obviously hand-made as a late Tiziano.


Art is about the making of ‘permanent equivalents’: here, in a passionate calm Andrew opens himself (again) to the potter’s art – one of the oldest and most human of all craft forms. ‘Was it for this the clay grew tall?’ was the question Wilfred Owen, the great English anti-war poet asked but, in these paintings, it is the timeless phenomenon of the beauty of clay and paint that comes forward to meet us out of these canvases – beauties, like a gentle kiss offered, like a blessing given. Here is love. Love never outlives its movement. Andrew Ward captures the poetry of the movement of clay – conjured into new forms by the potter’s hands – as a gift to be passed. Like the potter, this painter works with his palms and fingers, and loving, reverential intensity.


The birth of a mountain, the birth of a pot, the birth of a painting. Jean Renoir said he painted with ‘his penis’. And it was Andrew’s response to the delight of his son Carlin, in bringing home a chicken’s egg, that ignited this series of vase paintings. Here are the simple joys of the beginning of things: ‘to be surprised, to wonder, is to begin to understand’. A wild bird’s egg, the earth seen from space, a sleeping head by Brancusi: as a consciously contemporary artist, Andrew Ward responds to ‘the Shock of the New’ but deeper, perhaps, is his love of ‘the Shock of the Old’ – the timeless.


Bronze Age figurines, the words of Lao Tse, the names Morandi and Cy Twombly come to one before these contemplative, uplifting works. Here are black holes. Here is risen clay. Before these paintings time itself can seem suspended, space take on a stellar pulse, solid forms become insubstantial. Seeing becomes visionary: here are paintings that must be dwelt with to be believed. Of course, they are not perfect. There is an old saying amongst Arab potters, ‘Only Allah makes perfect pots!’ and, if they ever make a pot that looks near-perfect, they nick an imperfection in it. So works Andrew Ward – in equal humbleness.


Thus the conyach gives formal expression to the deep passions raised in the presence of death – and the grandest phenomena of life are addressed by an artist of high spirit acting within a tradition of disciplined, spontaneous excellence.


Timothy Neat



Press Text for White Cloud Blue Mountain (pdf)

Press Text for Between the Forest and the Trees (pdf)

<-Back to list