Telling a Story #MarkWard

'And (four) Little Lambs Eat Ivy' 60x97cm, £900

'Dive School' 60x60cm, £800

Mark Ward’s paintings are full of so many elements that I love – colour, composition, shape, line and the way in which he has made them.  However, there is also, often, a sense of drama, a feeling that there is a story unfolding in front of your eyes and you just need to piece together the elements.  In 'And (four) Little Lambs Eat Ivy' this is most definitely the case.

“Stories tend to develop from playing with the models.  I’m always looking for some sort of drama, whether it’s one figure or a relationship between figures, but I see it as my role to present a tableau for other people to make up their own stories.”  Mark Ward

Mark’s juxtaposition of orange with the blue and turquoise in the background is incredibly pleasing.  Couple this with the bold white and black of the Lambs signifies that colour forms a huge part in the painting.  Shape, too, plays it’s role if you consider the way in which the triangles of orange Ivy mirror the blue crown like shapes in the background, as well as the angles of the Lamb’s bodies, their legs, and the tufts of  fur or hair on top of their heads. There are many angular lines  which marry together beautifully. Then, of course, there are gentle nudges, or suggestions, within the composition as to how your eye should  travel around the canvas.  Personally, I latch onto the left-hand side of the orange Ivy, rather like a string of  bunting, my eye swirling through and across the canvas, following the line of the Ivy, right up to the point where it leaves out the top right hand edge of the painting. As my eye travels along that line of Ivy, I come across every other element of the picture - the long legs of the Lambs, the shapes of their bodies, their eyes, ears, their spotty coats. So, it is an incredibly sharp composition.

However, my main attraction to this particular piece is the sense that there is a story attached, a suggestion of drama, something is  happening but I am not quite sure what. This forms part of the enjoyment because it means I can look at the painting for a very long time, imagining all sorts of plausible proposals for what might be unfolding.   The first thing I notice are the eyes, four sets looking out of the picture.  The two white Lambs have their eyes locked on me, looking straight out of the canvas directly at the viewer, whilst the two black lambs are looking out to the left.  To me, this indicates they are looking at something else, something that they can see, but which I cannot.  But what could  this be?  Could it be they have stolen the  long piece of  orange Ivy from somewhere? Remember Peter Rabbit escaping from Mr. McGregor's garden with a carrot in his mouth. Have they been cheeky wee Lambs, stealing from where they should not have been?  Now they are  tiptoeing, creeping away from the scene of the crime. Mark does not paint them standing upright, straight up and down, but, rather, at an angle, their legs playing a prominent part in the painting. In fact, the middle black lamb’s legs are depicted in such a way as to show that they are moving, one leg off the ground. I sense that they are tiptoeing, walking gradually and slowly, sneaking away.  Are  they stealing away because they have been naughty, or are they frightened and scared? Those wide open staring eyes, tome, could suggest shock or a surprise. Perhaps, all is not well? The vague impression of shadow behind them, the way in which the characters are lit, builds on this sense of suspense and mystery. And so, without really being able to put my finger on  why, I am put in mind of horror films, or thrillers, although I do not necessarily have an answer as to what is actually  unfolding in front of my eyes.   I definitely think that that there is something out-with the frame of the painting that we can only imagine.  It is also hard to get away from the fact that these wee Lambs are almost caricatures, and, therefore, carry with them an element of humour and which is accentuated by the use of colour.  

One of the joys of brilliant  works of art like this piece is that they raise questions without necessarily providing a right or wrong answer.   As a viewer, the artist expects you to work at uncovering a story or  an idea. One must search for clues, take the time to  stop and think, to ponder.  In this respect “And (four) Little Lambs Eat Ivy” is similar  to Mark’s Still Life '4 Pink Pots with Snowballs' full of layers and questions.   READ OUR STILL LIFE BLOG


'Dive School' is an altogether, thoroughly joyous painting. There is a very definite sense of narrative going on - a story happening right in front of our eyes.  However, unlike 'And (Four) Little Lambs Eat Ivy', I do not  think that there is any question about whether this is a happy, sad, mysterious, or scary sort of narrative.   This is a thoroughly joyful one, and I think a lot of that is down to Mark’s use of colour. There is not a limited palette, rather, it is full of attractive, bright colours - orange, yellow, red,  purple, blue, green, white, black.  There are a rainbow of hues and it is vividly vibrant. Look at how  there are points throughout the painting which genuinely zing and jump, from the white moon at the top and the yellow triangles on the diving bird’s wings, to the white on the chests of the bird sat the front of the canvas.  Then, of course, there are all the pleasing shapes and strong lines, from the tall pyramid cone at the bottom of the canvas, the square plinth on which the two birds sit, the round circular Moon, the wavy organic lines which weave across the canvas, the splodgy dots in the background and the angular lines of the diving bird. There is a huge amount happening in this painting, as there is in all of  Mark’s work, in terms of colour, line and composition, but I think, really, the overall sense on 'Dive School' is joy  and happiness.

Two cheeky, wee white birds sit, watching, beaks open wide in awe and amazement, as the Gannet dives down to plunge into the water beneath.  Eyes glinting in the light, necks stretched upwards, are these two birds friends of the Gannet, or are they youngsters, learning the artform of the perfect dive?  The title ‘Dive School’ is what this might  suggest!  

The green Gannet is huge, covering a significant portion of the picture plane, suggesting importance, gravitas, his angular lines and large, black-rimmed eyes putting me in mind of an elderly military general passing his wisdom and expertise onto the younger generation.  

I love  watching Gannets swoop and dive-bomb into the  sea in the summer, listening to the splash of water.  Does this form of teaching and sharing happen in real life?  Hidden away on rocks amongst secret Islands are there companies  upon companies of Gannets lining up, learning their craft? I  really  love the notion!

Increasingly, as I become more and more familiar with Mark’s work, I wonder about his titles:

‘Dive School’

‘Flap Snap’

‘On Dangerous Grounds’


‘And (four) Little Lambs Eat Ivy’

They add a palpable sense of joy to the paintings, but also an element of mystery.  Where do they come from?  How does Mark arrive at them?

“The pictures usually create their own titles, and if they are a bit mysterious, so much the better. Having said that, perhaps you know that ‘Little Lamb’ comes from a song that we all knew as kids from the radio – Mares eat oats and does eat oats, And little lambs eat ivy, Kid’ll eat ivy too, Wouldn’t you?  I bet your parents know it as ‘Maizy Dotes.’”  Mark Ward

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Ruth's Exhibition opens on 8th September and runs to 7th October. We would be delighted if you could join us from 2pm for the opening.
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