Interview: The Complex Mind of Contemporary Street Artist Robyn Ward
Who is Robyn Ward and why should he be on your radar? Robyn is a contemporary artist of immense talent whose multi-layered paintings tap into something we can all relate to: childhood.
Remember those special cartoon characters you grew up with as a kid? Well, Robyn puts them right out there in his pieces, using different mediums to bring to life this feeling of childhood nostalgia meets adolescent rebellion. His work is dark, gritty, and provides a nod to things like drug culture, politics, and social breakdown.
Self-taught and originally from Northern Ireland, Robyn has been honing his craft for some time now, and, in recent years has headed up some fabulous exhibitions around the world. He currently floats between London and Los Angeles.
Right now our attention is on his upcoming London show, Once Upon a Time, which brings with it new works of art in his familiar style.
We love Robyn’s visuals, but what we’re more interested in is the man behind them. Keen to speak to him before the show, we got in touch and learned the following:
Use of pseudonyms is very popular in the art world – particularly amongst street artists. Have you ever gone by anything other than your real name?
Yes. Back when I was a teenager, and getting into painting, I would constantly change my signature up for fear of getting of caught. Northern Ireland, where I grew up, was heavily policed, and going through a difficult time politically, so I had to be careful.
What’s your strongest emotion and what bearing does it have on your work?
I have a very addictive personality. My emotions are like a pendulum: constantly changing, and forcing me to question life and society. Sometimes they bring me to dark places, so I find it therapeutic to paint how I see the world. It’s one of the reasons I paint about drugs so much. On the outside looking in, it may seem like I’m glorifying drugs, but what I’m actually depicting is my own overindulgence and struggle with addiction.
What’s your lasting memory of childhood?
Haha – I would have to say grit and politics. Belfast was a gritty city, man. It was poor and industrial, at the tail end of a political war. I will always love the city and its people, but it was definitely an interesting place to grow up!
They say artists have overactive imaginations. What’s the weirdest dream you’ve ever had?
I would have to agree, but I don’t think you would be allowed to publish my weirdest dream…
That bad, is it? Given that you’ve travelled quite a bit, where would you say is the most inspiring place you’ve visited and why?
Different cities and countries inspire me for very different reasons. I love the healthy lifestyle of LA and the abundance of light. I find that I am more productive than ever when painting in LA. However cities like London and New York, with their grit and soul, are an unparalleled source of inspiration to me. I did an 11 month stint in Amsterdam, and, although slow at times, I found it to be one of the most beautiful, design-led cities.
A constant change of scenery and culture is what inspires me the most and fuels my creative thinking, whilst giving me more of an insight into social and economic situations in different parts of the world. I have always been a hands-on learner. This year alone I have done and will be painting residencies across LA, London, Lisbon, Bangkok and Sao Paulo.
Wow, you’re quite the globetrotter! When are you at your most creative during the day?
I’m usually most creative mid-morning or last thing at night. A lot of my ideas come to me when I’m nowhere near a canvas, and I tend to dwell on them for months at a time. I constantly sketch them out and develop them into a concept for an exhibition which is constantly evolving. Then I go into paint-mode and become creative in a different way: my ideas for the pieces stay the same but the colours really come alive depending on the mood I’m in or how I’m feeling. I often use music to help steer this direction.
Which cartoon character do you most relate to and why?
While I enjoyed cartoons growing up, it’s a bit of a misconception that I use cartoon characters due to a love of them as an adult. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan, but the reason I use cartoons in my present series is as a juxtaposition or parody. I feel the characters help create a conversation around the current social and economic political landscape. And my cartoon series is just one style that I like to play around with. I’m actually looking forward to really diving into my next series which I started to conceptualize at the start of this year for my 2019 exhibition. It’s going to move away from cartoon characters, and explore clowns as a topic whilst looking at the nature of gun laws and control.
Robyn’s Once Upon a Time show will take place at London’s HOFA Gallery from May 10th to May 16th at two separate locations. The first portion of the show will run from May 10th to May 13th at 30 Royal Opera Arcade, and second portion will happen at 58 Maddox Street.
The exhibition will also be shown in Mexico, Belfast and Sao Paulo later this year. For further details, follow Robyn on Instagram now @robynwardart. Alternatively, you can check out his work on his website by clicking here.