Artist profile - Paul Ward

Arley Hall

Arley Hall - Credit: Archant

Couples seeking a lasting, tangible memory of their wedding day are beating a path to the door of Altrincham artist Paul Ward.

Paul Ward

Paul Ward - Credit: Archant

Paul Ward is young, aware, curious, cares deeply about the world he lives in and engaged with his community. Pretty much the typical Millennial in fact, the generation that has come of age at a time when jobs aren't easy to come by and new career paths must be beaten from previously untrodden land, which is exactly what he has done.

He graduated with a degree from the School of Fine Art at Leeds University, where I first assumed he must have actually studied the mediums in which he works now. When he started there, he thought that too, but no.

'For those three years I just had to put the brush down. I felt rather discouraged by it all - it seemed that there were a lot of wrong answers but nobody could tell me the right answers. I was very much directed into every art form but paint and pencil. I ended up doing an art installation for my graduation project, it was put on display in Altrincham and a neighbour came to see it. He said he really liked it, but how was I ever going to make any money?'

I can easily see myself being that neighbour. I love art, in all its forms, but so much seems incomprehensible and quite off-putting in its attempts to be something new and different. Paul realised that he felt the same.

Self portrait

Self portrait - Credit: Archant

'I often think that a lot about the art world is made purposefully complicated to make it exclusive, for the elite. There's a lot said and done that can make people feel foolish. For me, it's about making art accessible to everybody. I think I have a responsibility as an artist to engage with people.'

When most fine art graduates finish up working in jobs that have no relation to their degree subject, it's refreshing to find someone who is not only making a success of his chosen career, but is doing so in a way that he doesn't feel compromises his ethics. It's been a winding road, however, but Paul has taken opportunities as they arose until he's finally in a place he can see as a strong foundation to build upon.

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'When I graduated I felt at a bit of a loss. I had done some illustrations just for my own pleasure, subjects that attracted me, and I thought maybe I would print them onto t-shirts. I bought some old screen-print equipment and I would go to record shops and bars and take any size of order - as long as I covered my costs, I was happy. I had lost confidence in my drawing skills, so this was a time to really find myself again. At the same time, Altrincham Market was just getting started, and I took a stall there and started selling my own designs. Customers then started to ask if I took commissions.

'In 2016 my sister was getting married at Arley Hall and asked me to design her wedding stationery - it's such a beautiful building she wanted an illustration of it on the invitations.

Coltan: Paul's portrait for RBSA Portrait Award Show

Coltan: Paul's portrait for RBSA Portrait Award Show - Credit: Archant

'When my dad saw what I had done, he suggested I send it to the team there. They really liked it and commissioned me to create some linen bags and aprons for an event they were holding, and have commissioned more work since.

'I now have been asked to create stationery for weddings at Arley and other stately homes in the area, including Adlington Hall, where the couple asked me to include their cats in the drawing too! My clients always receive the original ink drawing, and then I can print anything else they want from that design. I recently blew one up to A3 size, then set it in a broad mount that their wedding guests could write on, rather than in a guest book. It's then something that they can show in their home, rather than tuck away in a drawer.'

I wonder, has Paul really not compromised his own desires as an artist to paint what inspires him, rather than just what his clients want?

'At the moment, I would say I have it really well balanced. This year has been really good, so far. I was invited to be an artist in residence at a hotel in Corfu, who flew me over for two weeks to paint scenes from their hotel and gardens. It felt very good, when asked what I was doing while sitting painting in an olive grove, to say "I'm the hotel's artist in residence"! I have also had a painting accepted into The Royal Birmingham Society of Artists Portrait Prize. When they said I was shortlisted I was delighted, but to make it to the final exhibition…'

Paul is clearly thrilled by this, proud and humbled in equal measure. His portrait taps into something he's personally interested in - the exploitation of the environment and communities by international corporations more interested in profit margins than being good world citizens.

'My portrait is of a miner in the DRC, where they dig for the minerals that form tantalite, which is used in the world's electronics industry, where obsolescence is in-built, meaning constant high demand. Tantalite is a 'conflict mineral' and has helped finance war in the DRC.'

It may be that Paul has the balance exactly right - art for himself and for everybody. Engaged couples are made happy by his wedding illustrations, he's made happy by his oil paintings and his neighbour is happy because Paul is actually making money from art. A happy ending? I imagine there's more to come, but that will be another story.