Detention with Molly Ringwald. Michael Jackson advertised Pepsi. Gold rope chains as thick as a full gown man’s wrist. As an avid fan of 80’s Americana, Mark Ward craves these things. Having parlayed his way into a design gig for Stussy while at London’s St. Martin’s College, Mark has designed for household name brands such as FHM and Rockstar Games. A Friday night in London finds him painting an installation in Niketown as shoppers are browsing the shelves of the shoewear giant’s hub in the city. Ward, 27, has created a 3-D piece to commemorate the launch of the Nike Dunk Be True line.
â€œI was born in ’81 so I actually missed all that stuff that was going on, but when I get into something I’m quite particular that I need to go back to the roots of it.â€
Format: How old were you when you realized you had a flair for design?
MW: Well, I was always drawing when I was a kid â€“ copying cereal box characters and I had a Magna Doodle that I was always using. I never really took it seriously until I was 16, and realized actually this is what I really enjoyed doing. I didnâ€™t really consider doing anything else for a career. Then when I went to university I specialized in advertising, thinking that I still needed and a proper job and that I couldnâ€™t just be drawing for a living. I studied advertising, got a job and then I was an art director. Sounds impressive but I was a junior art director. I was doing Barbie adverts and stuff like that â€“ it was a torrid time. So I was doing that and I was commissioning other illustrators and artists to do the stuff that I wanted to be doing and I thought â€˜This is all completely wrong.â€™ So I needed to be on the other side of the portfolio, basically so I needed to leave which was quite scary, so I did that. At the same time I was already working for Stussy, because during my first year at uni, I went into the store thinking I had nothing to lose and said â€œYour poster there looks a bit tired and battered, let me design you a new one for freeâ€ and they admired my cockiness, apparently and let me do some work, which was cool. I was there for three years, but I kinda got a bit tired of doing just clothing. Then I left and carried on doing freelance elsewhere. I had built my confidence up enough that I could give it a go. Now, Iâ€™ve been doing this full-time since last November.
Format: So itâ€™s an ongoing process?
MW: Yeah â€“ slowly, slowly and then I just took the plunge, but itâ€™s damn scary…
Format: What do you make of the British publicâ€™s newfound appreciation of street art, with the likes of Banksy popping up in the newspapers all the time?
MW: I share a studio with [graf artist] Insa, and I have an ongoing discussion with him about this. Iâ€™m not a graffiti writer, but I used to dabble in it, for me to call myself a writer would be an insult to the people who do it. For me street art falls into two categories. You get Banksy, who is almost like a stand up comedian â€“ canvas after canvas he has some funny images, and thatâ€™s great because humour sells canvases, but it all depends on what your depiction of art is â€“ you canâ€™t be an artist and please everyone, unfortunately. Youâ€™ll always have haters, whatever you do. My view of street art â€“ itâ€™s whatever you make it. I admire how far Banksyâ€™s got â€“ but itâ€™s almost like a clichÃ©d thing to like Banksy now. I kinda look out more for people who havenâ€™t been recognized yet and thatâ€™s where the fresher stuff is. Thereâ€™s enough imitators of Banksy out there. I went to college with Danny Sangra and I really admire his work. I have a personal problem with having to paint something that resembles a certain form that people can recognize, whilst Danny is able to just paint whatever and it still looks great. To be honest I eat myself up about this everyday â€“ itâ€™s just what you make of it â€“ if youâ€™re true to yourself then thatâ€™s good, people should like you for what you do.
Format: Which of the campaigns that youâ€™ve worked on has been closest to your heart and why?
MW: I really enjoyed working with Stussy. They took me on and gave me my break and I couldnâ€™t believe my luck â€“ Iâ€™d been wearing Stussy for years and they were cool guys. Iâ€™m still working with them now. It felt most natural because every T-shirt that I did was just spilling out what I wanted to see on a T-shirt and for them to accept it for what it was and run with it. Iâ€™m chuffed when I walk down the street and see some kid who doesnâ€™t know me wearing my stuff â€“ thatâ€™s the best feeling.
Format: What was it about the Dunk that inspired you to create an installation?
MW: I grew up skateboarding and Iâ€™ve always had a fascination with America â€“ especially coming from the suburbs â€“ everything you wanted was in America. Itâ€™s the same with skating â€“ you want to skate the equipment that the guys in the magazines have. I guess it created this magical land in my head of what America should be. I was fortunate enough to go to Disneyland when I was a kid and that kinda cemented how everything seemed better over there. And their number-plates â€“ how come they get to have little pictures on theirsâ€™ but weâ€™re not allowed them? It just seemed that we were being punished. All thatâ€™s kinda built into the Dunk artwork. Thereâ€™s a reference to Jim Phillips who did all the artwork for Santa Cruz Skateboards, with that blue arm holding onto the hoop.
I was born in â€™81 so I actually missed all that stuff that was going on, but when I get into something Iâ€™m quite particular that I need to go back to the roots of it. Itâ€™s great that skateboarding and all that stuff has boomed again and itâ€™s accessible to the kids, but I donâ€™t think thereâ€™s the same passion for it as there once was. You used to be able to recognize a guy who skates by the condition of his shoes and he had scabby elbows, there were one or two in a massive crowd; now you walk down the street and now you can walk down Oxford Street and pick out 20 who you would say are skaters but theyâ€™re not. To be honest, Iâ€™ve always been crap on a skateboard. Iâ€™m more into the graphics [laughs]. I broke my knee, skating when I was young and that summer and I had to concentrate on something. I mustâ€™ve done a whole series of skate decks for me and my mates.
Format: Whatâ€™s your favourite medium to work in?
MW: I donâ€™t really have one â€“ thereâ€™s proâ€™s and cons to every single one I use. I like spray paint because of the immediacy and the instant satisfaction of it, but then it drips all the time; itâ€™s very messy and you canâ€™t undo what youâ€™ve just done. But if youâ€™re working on a computer you can make corrections all the time. I guess my favourite medium is pencil and paper because thatâ€™s where the initial idea comes from and then I finalise it.
Format: Do you have any plans for a full on Mark Ward exhibition?
MW: Yeah, I do. This summer, thereâ€™s gonna be a show at the Stussy store â€“ it seemed the natural thing to do. Iâ€™m building up a bank of work at the moment, so there will be a bigger show, hopefully by the end of the year.
Format: What sort of thing should people expect from that show?
MW: Just randomness from my head, to be honest. Itâ€™s quite nice to be painting for myself and not for a client â€“ just to be spilling out what I want to see. My parents think itâ€™s a bit weirdâ€¦
Format: I guess parents really just donâ€™t understandâ€¦
MW: They think itâ€™s very nice. â€œTell me about your pictureâ€ – thatâ€™s what they say. [Laughs]
Format: Whatâ€™s your soundtrack when youâ€™re in the studio?
MW: I love 1980â€™s hip-hop, again because I wasnâ€™t old enough to appreciate it at the time. I was born into it. The boss at Stussy is madly into music, so I learnt about music when I was there. I quite like dub and ska as well. Insa listens to 1XTRA while weâ€™re in the studio quite a lot. Iâ€™m not so into Nelly or R Kelly. What the hell was Trapped In The Closet about. He went into the closet and found a midget! I listen to De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest â€“ I like some new stuff too. Stuff that can poke fun at itself. Goldie Lookin Chain are terrible, but at the same time theyâ€™ve got balls to be putting their name to it and having a laughâ€¦
Format: Did any of your other classmates at St. Martinâ€™s go on to excel in their chosen fields?
MW: Thereâ€™s a guy called Tom Vek who I went to college with, heâ€™s a very talented guy. Heâ€™s one talented guy whoâ€™s annoyingly good at everything. Heâ€™s a great guy; Iâ€™m not putting him down. Him and Chris Cairns, whoâ€™s now a film director working with Lady Sovereign and all that on music videos. Heâ€™s been listed in those Top 30 under-30 lists, so heâ€™s going places. There were some guys in Fashion as well; while I was designing for the Stussy lot and they were doing more of the high end stuff. I wouldnâ€™t really say they were my friends but we kind of acknowledged each other in the hallway, but that was it. Itâ€™s funny because Danny and I werenâ€™t actually in the same class. We were friendly because he was doing illustrating and I was doing advertising, with my sights on getting a proper job [laughs]. I was asking him what heâ€™d learned in his classes â€“ he would just tell me to forget what I was worrying about and get on with it.
Format: Whatâ€™s next for Mark Ward after the Stussy show, then?
MW: Iâ€™ve got some projects that Iâ€™m working on that Iâ€™m not really allowed to say too much about â€“ that sounds sooo pretentiousâ€¦
Format: Not even a couple of clues?
MW: Erm â€“ Burton Snowboards and some more stuff for Stussy. Thatâ€™s all I can say.
Format: Can you finish the following statement: Mark Ward isâ€¦.