Saturation Point

New Order II, Saatchi Gallery, London
Make Be More Than One Start, FOLD Gallery, London

by Laurence Noga


I first encountered the work of Finbar Ward at Wimbledon College of Art, where he studied in 2010. The work then, as now, was rich from a phenomenological viewpoint. But as Ward recently stated in our recent talk at APT studios In Deptford, the work very much has its own memory.

In our conversation at APT and at Saatchi a couple of months ago, Ward was keen to pinpoint the work of Phillip Guston as a pivotal influence on the practice, particularly the deep use of destruction in his work, and importantly, the tragedy of human experience. When I encountered Dispenser (240x55x120cm) at the Saatchi Gallery I was immediately struck by the mysterious presence, and the level of absence, in the chamber-like object.

On walking around the work there is an anxiety in the deconstruction and re-assembly. The form echoes a flat-pack look (as Ward describes it); horizontal bands in raw and painted white wood, which gives the work a clear post-modern argument. There is a sense of the autobiographical at work here within the hidden narrative.

The ambiguity in the work draws the viewer into the objectification in the structure; there is a feeling of an effigy contained within it. Its weight is heightened by the embedded concrete slab. The atmosphere from the engagement with its own colour (both acrylic and oil) is finely tuned. The density of the pigment embedded in the internal canvas, which sits snugly inside this banal structure, is in direct counterpoint to the flatly painted cadmium orange canvas that juts into the space, alluding to our senses, and to a world that exists outside the work.

The levels of strata in these chambers further accentuate the metaphysical plane on which the work exists. The architectural relationship with the space in both Tomb II and Chamber focuses the viewer more deeply towards a sense of their making. Tomb II has a closed lid, the smell of the distemper is evident, and the concrete is doubled at its base. Chamber allows its lid to slide back to reveal the ground beneath, using its own shadow to cast an uncanny glow. Its authenticity, which seems humble yet total, opens up the possibility, as Ward says, of ‘heroic failure’. The smaller sleepers indicate a further connotation in this taut psychological environment.

Ward showed me his small sketchbooks. These are important as a starting point; the fast, diagrammatic, emotive drawings initially dictate the work at a very fast pace, but like Guston, Ward wants to trick himself out of knowing how he gets there. The site, and his reaction to that space, often seems to need a tragic atmosphere.

When I visited FOLD Gallery, I felt the work had a deeper level of anxiety than at Saatchi. The reason for this is partly intuitive, but the notion of the peripheral is a key component. This feeling of unease is pushed by the armature or structures in the work. False Start (Other Half) (40x28x4cm, 40x28x6cm) is a diptych that is hung in a double mirroring of the situation, which you cannot see because the glossy surface is smeared, buckled and burnt. The phenomenological ingredients are juxtaposed to create a powerful impulse in the viewer.

The element of tragedy is formalised in The Space Between Things. The first Van Dyck brown tower (228cm) has a playful ‘De Chirico’ humour, anchored by its concrete base. The second tower (225cm) has been deconstructed, sliced, its base left intact, with folded, coloured canvas stapled to the concrete. This frustrating and peculiar moment introduces us to a disturbing world at the top of the towers that we can’t quite see or get to. Elements from the other paintings sit like a strange citadel, conjuring things in your mind.

Extending the experience – and in direct relationship with the towers – Untitled (30x22x8cm) hovers behind the taller tower. Luminous and phosphorescent, the cadmium yellow oil paint is stained into the linen, four compressed layers deep. The conversation works across the wall towards Rising Triangle (43x21x4cm) which has been layered with concrete wash. The sign points to the floor, provoking a moment where everything is dissolved and then suddenly becomes a reality. Other works have corners or chunks bitten out of them, which also introduces a constant movement.

When I think about the last tower, In The Red (88x11x17cm), which is fastened to the wall, I am reminded of the work of Angela de La Cruz, and her methods of revealing and concealing the stretcher or supports. Pink fleshy oil on linen is soaked into the surface, seeping its colour into the fabric. Other small structural removals, placed at the top of the monument, set a contemplative tone, pushing a more bodily sense of entombment.

This seeping of the colour into the space is particularly successful in Untitled (Phthalo Blue Diptych) (133x64x23cm, 200x85x11cm). These works are cleaner, and sharpen a ‘sudden density’ in the space. The phthalo blue has been more evenly layered on, and the space between the works produces a morbid tension.  The sign of disruption, orchestrated by the cadmium red oil dots near the edge of the structures, adds something that is erotic and uncertain.

Ward is able to construct an installation that the viewer cannot predict, allowing a residue of time to leak into the space. There is a deep sense of nostalgia through the significance of the colour relationships and the interplay of conversation between the forms, propelling you into a place where surprising and unexpected things happen. He wants, like Guston, to create a particular kind of look that somehow parallels life.