In Robyn Ward's most recent series, Once Upon a Time, iconic cartoon characters are hand-drawn onto backgrounds of graffiti, often painted over a coarsely textured surface. The initial impression of childhood nostalgia and innocence conveyed by the cartoon characters is subverted by their actions, nodding ironically to drug culture, politics, socio-economic issues and contemporary sexual mores.
The contemporary Irish painter, currently based between London and Los Angeles, juxtaposes the cosy, domestic world of early youth with the gritty visuals of adolescent rebellion and a distinctly adult sensibility, to create work that is restlessly interrogative and darkly humorous.
The title for this exhibition has a dual meaning: it draws attention to the original context in which the viewer experienced these fairy tales and cartoon characters. On the other hand, in a more literal sense, these signs did exist indeed, once upon a time, when extreme hatred, bigotry, and racism were widely advertised and accepted.
The artist drew from these historical images and doused them with some of his characteristic dark humour, to recount socio-political events that took place as recently as 60 years ago. Ward builds these juxtapositions into his canvases and imagines a world where these issues still existed – in the same way.
A self-taught artist, Ward began his career as a teenager on the streets of Belfast in Northern Ireland, creating large-scale graffiti work on bridges and derelict buildings. He now works in mixed media on canvas, combining acrylics, inks, watercolours, oils and spray paint. Drawing inspiration from Pollock, Warhol, Basquiat, Harrington and Bosch, Ward's multi-layered and multi-faceted paintings capture the lurid kaleidoscope of Western society in the 21st century.
The exhibition, Once Upon a Time, will run from 10 May until 13 May at HOFA Gallery in London. For more information, visit robynwardart.com.