IfPlayfair‘s plan for three great avenues radiating from the foot of Calton Hill had been realised, then the Hillside Gallery would have been in its element. As history has worked it, the little gallery sits oddly in its setting ofundistinguished tenements and corner shops, like a pleasure cruiser moored among oil tankers. Owners Roland Wallis and Jonathan Macfarlane have been paddling quietly but firmly against the mainstream since they opened earlier this year. Last month they pushed the boat out with a ﬂotilla of fibreglass drag queens. This week the less sensational, but no less striking work of illustrator Graham Ward gets its first full-scale showing. The illustrator’s lot is not a comfortable one. Straddling the separated camps of fine and commercial art, it is a career which can be a thankless pursuit of unimaginative art directors or an isolated life as poor relation to the bigger, splashier painters. Graham Ward’s work appears on record and book covers and in magazines, but it seems far-removed from the world of deadlines and working to order. Personal in all ways, his talismanic drawings are filled with the faces of
25: ~. ‘ \\ \sxx
Julie Morrice discovers a young artist whose work puts paid to the sentiment that illustrators are second class painters.
friends and packed with his own obsessions. ‘It is personal but I hope it’s broad enough that people can see something in it for them. I“ can have the people I care about in my work, then it’s more than making up things.‘
External references are an important part of Ward’s illustrations. The Festival of Britain, chalk hill figures, Georg Grosz, Starriegazie Pie — recognisable images flood in as if from a suspended narrative. They are not satirised but celebrated from where we are now. Precise and luminous, Ward’s graphite and watercolour pictures are beguiling pieces, highly reminiscent of an age of innocence, but shaded with the dark pen of disappointment. ‘I hate nostalgia,‘ says Ward, yet his work is certainly romantic, and he welcomes at least some aspects of what he sees as a general return to romanticism ‘at the end of an awful, hard, competitive decade. My work is all to do with the
past, to do with children. If people look at it and say, ‘Do you remember that?’ or ‘We did that!‘, that’s when it has worked.
Unhappy studying illustration in Manchester in the Seventies, Ward followed his tutor‘s suggestion that he had better ‘go somewhere where they leave you alone to get on with it’ and went to Stoke. ‘I lived on a slagheap that was subsiding into a Methodist chapel overlooking the park where Lesley Whittle was murdered.‘ Inspirational or not, Stoke was where Ward developed his art, but, graduating in painting, he found the entry into commercial art restrictive and difficult. ‘Art directors want what they‘ve already seen. It’s been eleven years ofslog trying to persuade people that they can apply my work.’ Now, with Decca, Penguin and Punch behind him, has he made it? ‘No way,‘ he laughs, “I made £700 last year. I don‘t think I‘ll ever make a living commercially. You just do what you
do and hope somebody will want it .‘ Ward is a perfectionist. He has infuriated friends and clients by turning back at the eleventh hour and starting again on a nearly-completed commission. One illustration took him three and a half months to do, working on his hands and knees on the floor because he didn‘t have a table. ‘People say that I must work faster, but I never can.‘ The slick, arbitrary taste of the commercial world is at odds with his intense, introverted vision and his storybook themes. ‘1 would like people to regard it as fine art and buy it on those terms. I‘d like people to have it who really respond to it.’ Dreaming ofthe future, he talks of producing more portraits with a narrative element, and of his ambition to paint a vast Ship of Fools, ‘I‘d have to devote one or two years to it’. Most ofall, he wants to get out ofthe metropolis, ‘London doesn’t provide any impetus — my stuffis all about somewhere else.‘
Graham Ward is 5/20 wing all/1e Hillside Gallery, Hillside Street, mail 14 Sept.
The List 25 — 31 August 198911