Vincent Ward’s Kiwi Gothic Nudes

His figures inhabit a landscape that William Blake would have been at home in. Shades of the visionary mysticism of William Blake, the romanticism of Caspar David Friedrich and the nudes of German expressionist Kathe Kollwitz echo in the recent work of filmmaker Vincent Ward turned photographer and painter.

“The surprise strength is Ward’s paintings of female nudes. With their dramatic, ambiguous baroque gestures, and the rich rippling surfaces that coat the models’ skin…. they are violent yet celebratory, as if part of some strenuous ritual. The emotional turbulence of these works tugs and turns you around, like a dark contemporary version of Renoir.” – Mark Amery, Dominion Post.

WEHI – where fear and awe collide Ward’s recent photography, video and mixed media works on canvas was first shown at the Govett Brewster Gallery, New Plymouth December 2011, followed by Mark Hutchins Gallery Wellington 22 march to 14 April 2012.

Curator and Govett-Brewster Art Gallery Director Rhana Devenport says, “Vincent Ward has evolved a powerful and haunting emotional and visual register within filmic worlds. His recent explorations with still images delve deeply into his abiding concerns with transcendence and acute moments of loss and discovery. This exhibition also presents an orchestrated installation of moving image and sound, distillations and meditations drawn from his own filmic language.”

Ward is a filmmaker with a background in the fine arts. His films have been acclaimed for their visual aesthetic, the origins of which may be traced back to Ward’s studies in fine arts at Canterbury University School of Fine Arts. Although not a painting student, Ward was there in the last days of influential Expressionist painter Rudy Gopas, who by this time had gone walkabout talking to aliens in outer space and making artistic star maps on a photocopy machine. The Gothic fascination with the grotesque, that had the young Ward recreate for his first year finals, traffic smash with a wreaked motorbike, informs his recent work. His student movie State of Siege shares the pain, unease, anxiety and fear his new Kiwi Gothic work unleashes.

Ward says his films have been the starting point for fresh exploration for his new mixed media work. “Somewhere between the world of motion, film and painting I am currently working to find an alchemical marriage between these different media,” Ward says. “The exhibition conveys the concept of ‘wehi’, where fear and awe collide. It is a celebration of life’s intensity.”
Ward will be presenting his works at Auckland’s Gus Fisher Gallery and TSB Bank Wallace Arts Centre in Pah Homestead in an exhibition called; Inhale and Exhale which builds upon the range of works originally created for his solo show at New Plymouth’s Govett-Brewster Art Gallery.
His press release advises that they explore themes of human vulnerability and transformation. Ward’s ongoing concerns with metamorphosis, light, darkness and immersive experience has led him to create a series of big works that delve into otherworldly landscapes and transcendent states, seeking elusive ‘transformational moments’ that connect with the human psyche.

His figures free fall through an existential horror or are harpies that could have come from the medieval hell of Dante’s inferno. Displaced from the kiwi vernacular of say Vigil, they inhabit a landscape that William Blake would have been at home in. They hint at a deep ambivalence about the female species and I dare say a feminist could have a field day interpreting them. Would it have been more authentic if the figures falling through space, were middle aged men. Ward is a consummate manipulator of chiaroscuro and the theatre of alienation, that legacy of romanticism. “Hell is the other,” says Jean Paul Sartre. Ward’s world is not a comfortable or familiar place but rather a highly charged, compelling, hellish, erotic landscape. He is our master creator of the surreal and memorable kiwi gothic.

Inhale features Ward’s cinematic installations and opens 6 July at the Gus Fisher Gallery at The University of Auckland. Ward will be launching his new book, also titled Inhale | Exhale. The 180-page, large-format publication explores Ward’s distinctive fusion of film, photography and paint. Released by Montana Book Award winning publisher Ron Sang Inhale | Exhale will sit alongside Sang’s books on the work of Ralph Hotere, Len Castle and Michael Smither.

Inhale: Cinematic installations, opens at 5.30pm on Friday 6 July at the Gus Fisher Gallery and runs until 25 August. The Gus Fisher Gallery 74 Shortland Street

Exhale: Prints and paintings, opens at 6pm on 2 July at The Pah Homestead and runs until 2 September. The Pah Homestead, TSB Bank Wallace Arts Centre 72 Hillsborough Road
Hillsborough Auckland

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