Peter Ward: ‘Sleepwalking Toward the Apocalypse’

Above: Peter Ward, Wrapping Paper Quilt, 2017, 160 x 190 cm, quilted linocuts
Right: Peter Ward, Studio Selfie Quilt, 2016, 160 x 150 cm, quilted linocuts
Below right: Peter Ward, Earth Mother Gets Sold A Pup, 2016, 50 x 60 cm, linocut
Bottom: Peter Ward, Wrapping Paper 1, 2016, 50 x 60 cm, woven linocut

Peter Ward discusses his new exhibition at Swan Hill Regional Art Gallery

Q: The title of this exhibition is provocative and frightening—what is the central idea driving the content of the work?

PW: Though I have a very pessimistic view of how the world is going I’m not an unhappy person. I think this is a condition shared by many of us and as such we are all sleepwalking towards the apocalypse. Life is so comfortable that we can ignore or rationalise away the catastrophic problems facing us.

Q: Your use of colour is rich and full of feeling—almost contrary to the darkness the idea of the apocalypse is likely to suggest. What is the foundation of this approach and how do you balance those two extremes of light and dark, thematically speaking?

PW: I enjoy the tension created between the rich, colourful surface and the uncomfortable imagery beneath. On another level I simply enjoy playing with colour for its own sake. With my work Post Modern Serfdom I felt that black and white was a more appropriate response to the image though a coloured version does exist as a quilt. The Serfdom quilt is an excellent example of an attractive surface partially obscuring something disturbing.

Q: How do you combine the needs of embedding a ‘message’ in your work with the spontaneity of the creative process, without becoming too didactic?

PW: I don’t actually feel a need to embed a particular message into my work. Each work should be taken on its merits and it’s not compulsory for the viewer’s interpretation to correspond with mine. The ‘message’ is something that grows organically along with the colour and composition as I collage ideas prior to creating a print. My approach is intuitive. I juxtapose images that appeal and allow a narrative to emerge. I’m building a vocabulary of images which coincidentally compliment my pessimistic outlook. The volcano as a representation of unbridled natural power is one example and the extension of this to having an eruption emerge in backyard suburbia is an idea that appeals on both a surreal and allegorical level.

Q: How does this exhibition fit into your broader oeuvre?

PW: I simply finish one print and start thinking about the next. Because of the limitations of the medium and my own limitations as a printmaker I’m not always completely satisfied with the results but every now and again I transcend these limitations and create something special. I guess my oeuvre contains a dozen or so of these. With this exhibition I pitched a particular theme and I’ve tried to stay within that but I don’t feel compelled to always talk about the apocalypse. Next year I will be in residence at the Art Vault in Mildura and it will be interesting to see how the landscape of the Mallee region affects my imagery.

Q: What particular challenges emerged during the making of these works?

PW: One of the best things about the space I’m in at the moment is I can be ambitious with my ideas. While this presents challenges and risks, it is self-imposed and necessary if I want to develop as a printmaker. On a more personal level my wife died just over a year ago and since then I’ve moved my studio south from the NSW Southern Highlands to Geelong. This was an unwanted challenge but working towards this exhibition has proved therapeutic.

Q: What technical innovations have you employed for this suite of work?

PW: Linocut is not a high-tech sort of process. Its simplicity and directness is what drew me to the medium in the first place. I only feel the need to be proficient enough to communicate my ideas. I do weave and quilt my linocuts but these aren’t new techniques and both ways of working radically change the surface of the print and add extra layers of meaning. The woven Wrapping Paper series is far stronger than the straight printed version and I feel the Wrapping Paper Quilt will be one of the strongest pieces in the upcoming exhibition.

Peter Ward: Sleepwalking Toward the Apocalypse is at Swan Hill Regional Art Gallery 25 August-15 October.