Interviews

Gary Ward Pulls Us into his World of Darkness

By Calvin Atlan

Gary Ward does not shy away from topics and themes that make most people uncomfortable. Using crudity and simplicity to his advantage, the artist taps into a primal source to create visceral works of art. For more than a year now, Ward has added one or more pieces a day to his repertoire, creating them all in the wee hours after midnight. He is now ready to reveal the culmination of his year of darkness. Ward’s exhibition, The Midnight Drawings, is currently featured at The Salon inside Automatic Sweat in Los Angeles. The exhibit is currently on display through November 5, and on the final day, the gallery will host a closing party where art enthusiasts can meet the artist. PRØHBTD spoke with Ward to get some insight on his inspirations and creative process.

What are the primary themes you see in this series?

I think the themes are pretty similar to ones that run through all my work. There are drawings that focus on anger and frustration, relationships, loneliness, guilt—all the big ones come into play—but I also feel there’s a healthy dose of humor that sort of ties it all together. There is a certain comedic cynicism.

What symbolism do you see as inherent in word “midnight”?

Midnight to me feels a bit imposing. There’s some weight to it. There’s an end in sight, a feeling of running out of time. Soon you gotta deal with a new day. I think I operate best under pressure. Deadlines work for me.

How do you think the pieces would have been different if you opted instead to start working at noon?

Well, I did work during the day some weekends, and looking back, some of those pieces did feel a bit different, possibly a bit more upbeat. I think working at night was easier. My mind was in a different place. I was certainly more fueled by angst at night. I have a pretty hectic day job, so by 10:30 p.m. or 11 p.m., I can finally shut that stuff down and focus on the creative side. I always have music on. That normally sets the tone. You can see snippets from Bill Callahan, The Band, Neil Young, Magnolia Electric Co., phrases or words. I also loved listening to jazz, that feeling of improvisation and freedom. Dexter Gordon, Kamasi Washington. Pharoah Sanders. I never learned to play an instrument. I think this is where some of the work comes from: I’m a failed singer/songwriter.

You created a new piece every night for a year. Did you miss any days? Were there any difficulties in following such a strict schedule?

I didn’t miss, and some days there were more than one. I was actually out of town for a stretch and used torn up phone books and hotel stationery. Those pieces kind of sucked, but it kept the string going. I didn’t really think of it as any sort of schedule. It was more therapeutic than that. I needed to keep at it.

Have you found that certain emotions express themselves more strongly at night?

Loneliness, sadness, isolation. I don’t see them as bad or downers. I actually feel like it can be upbeat. I feel like those emotions strike something in me that is oddly positive. I don’t draw many love songs. 

Do you think by constraining your creative hours so specifically you unwittingly limited yourself so to speak?

I never thought about it. I didn’t really limit myself. I’d start and go until I finished. Sometimes that meant staying up pretty god damn late, much to my girlfriend’s chagrin.

Does your life-long relationship to Los Angeles come through in your work?

It must. Being in advertising and entertainment, even on the fringes, it can certainly color your vision of the world. It is a completely absurd, self-centered industry. I see things every day that provoke me, that tweak my sense of humor. Humor is probably my greatest coping mechanism. I train it on everything. This town is filled with material, a goldmine for cynics. 

In what ways has being a [film/digital] producer made you a better artist, and how has your art made you a better producer?

Producing is not that creative. You are a constant problem solver. I deal with people and problems. I help creatives get what they need to work. That is the total opposite of what I then do at night. It’s completely selfish. I am the final word. It’s my vision. I don’t rely on anyone else. That is why it’s so therapeutic for me. I need it so I can do my job the next day. I guess one feeds the other in some kind of screwed up ecosystem.

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