Posted by: groundsforsculpture | June 17, 2010

An Interview with Sculptor Clifford Ward

Clifford Ward

Interviewed for EXPRESSIONS by D.J. Haslett

Note: This is an excerpt from an interview printed in EXPRESSIONS newsletter in 2008.

Artist Clifford Ward had a number of other careers before pursuing his art full-time. He was pre-med for three years, then switched majors and received a B.A. in speech communications from Rider University. His first job was in advertising. Then he worked for a textbook publisher, and later moved to a smaller start-up publishing company in Philadelphia.

EXPRESSIONS had a chance to talk with him in his studio in the Motor Exhibit Building at GFS in late December 2007. He told us that his artistic journey started quite by chance when the last publishing company he worked for went out of business.

CLIFFORD: “I lost everything. It was a really, really, difficult time. And when I thought I hit rock bottom, I decided to make something, just as I have always done at one time or another. I would just sit down, get some materials and create something.

Once I found a cranberry juice jar and some long balloons that I blew up. First I wrapped the balloons around the jar. Then I papier-mâchéd the jar and the balloons and began to paint them. I still see the connection of that first piece with what I am doing now.  I remember having a little party.  There was this thing I made just sitting on the counter. Everyone started seeing things like figures and animals, and it became the topic of conversation. Once that happened, I was encouraged to make more pieces.

I exhibited in Philadelphia in the juried exhibitRittenhouse Square Fine Arts Annual.” My second year I sold three pieces and that was it. That’s how I started my art journey.  I began looking at the Sunday papers to see if there were jobs in art and found an ad for The Johnson Atelier.
I applied, got accepted, and went into the apprenticeship program.  After my first year, I was hired as staff in Metal Chasing and then became part of the technical teaching staff. When the foundry and program were discontinued, I left the Atelier.”

Clifford Ward, Jubilant Dancer. Courtesy of the Artist.

EXP: You have a sculpture here at GFS called “Jubilant Dancer.Tell us about the inspiration for it.

CLIFFORD: “It was an accident! An album cover of Grace Jones (Rock Star) was the inspiration for that piece. Grace was in a very bizarre position. I remember trying to get this piece to hold that position, but every time I would tie it or leave it by itself, it would slump. The piece had something else in mind. So it was a combination of her album cover, the piece wanting to do what it wanted to do, my inspiration and Judith Jamieson, the artistic director of the Alvin Ailey Dance Company. She performed several very famous dances, but the one I am thinking of is Cry’ orI Cry.’ She wore a long, flowing, plain white dress…and her movement…I found so many photos of her. It was this grace of hers that continues to inspire my dancers. In fact, that was the inspiration for many of the sculptures of dancers I’ve done.”

(Go to the “Meet the Sculptors” page on this blog to see a video of Clifford Ward talking about his sculpture Jubilant Dancer on exhibition at Grounds For Sculpture. The video was filmed on June 6, 2010.)

EXP: How would you categorize your work?

CLIFFORD: “I do not really know how to characterize it, but the closest description I received from someone else is “African Gothic.” I never thought about that until it was brought to my attention. For some reason it hit me so hard that I have accepted this description for a lot of my work. There is a certain ‘darkness’ to the work, but the message is about light. I use black a lot because
I like the contrast and how colors project against it. There is a great deal about the past in my work and much of the present along with futuristic influences and symbols. Much of my recent work seems to embrace perceived extraterrestrial beings.  So I always characterize it by stating that if there was a galaxy or a planet somewhere out there that we haven’t found yet, one that has an ancient African culture as the core, but a futurist kind of approach with extraterrestrial beings as its make-up, incorporating many other cultures and motifs into it, that’s where I see my work!  It seems to be somewhat alien, African. There’s a lot of Egyptian influence in the work, as well as that of many other indigenous people.”

Photo courtesy of the artist.

EXP: How do you get your ideas?

CLIFFORD: “I am always thinking about my work no matter where I am. My strongest ideas come from the progression of the work that is based on the previous work. I always want to see where I can take that piece and then build upon it. Just like everything I’ve done thus far builds on my first piece of art.  I think my muses are my unknown ancestors to a large degree, because I feel the connection. I don’t know where my art comes from and I don’t know why I concentrate on having such a strong African influence. I’ve never been to Africa, but I love the motifs and the ancient art of the continent. There is something that is connecting me with my ancestors. That’s who I believe is speaking through me. I like to start the work and see how the time miraculously seems to pass.  I become totally absorbed in the work and it just consumes all of me.  When I am creating, I sometimes become oblivious to external factors.  I feel that I have been called to do this work, almost like a meditation, where you just become part of some kind of zone.”

EXP: It is interesting that you just did your art. Are there any other artists that you look at now who may influence your work or do you feel totally independent?

CLIFFORD: “To a certain extent I am independent of it, but not entirely. One person’s work I just love is Jacob Epstein (American-born British Expressionist Sculptor 1880-1959).  I absolutely love his work.
I don’t see it in what I do, but I  feel the spirit of his work. I also love, Jacob Lawrence, Elizabeth Catlett, Rodin, and George Segal to name a few.

EXP: What materials do you use?

CLIFFORD: “My main medium is plaster bandage which is basically gauze with a coating of plaster.
It is dipped into water and then placed around an object or armature. In many of my pieces, I use armatures that are sometimes metal, wood, cardboard, mild steel and aluminum. I use a lot of wood for support. Quite often these pieces are cast in metal. There are some I’ve done in clay that I have also cast into bronze and other metals.

Photo courtesy of the artist.


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