Mark Ward

Mark Ward

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.

“I 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.”

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 – 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 didn’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 couldn’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 – 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 ‘This is all completely wrong.’ 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 “Your poster there looks a bit tired and battered, let me design you a new one for free” 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, I’ve been doing this full-time since last November.

Format: So it’s an ongoing process?
MW: Yeah – slowly, slowly and then I just took the plunge, but it’s damn scary…

Format: What do you make of the British public’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. I’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 – canvas after canvas he has some funny images, and that’s great because humour sells canvases, but it all depends on what your depiction of art is – you can’t be an artist and please everyone, unfortunately. You’ll always have haters, whatever you do. My view of street art – it’s whatever you make it. I admire how far Banksy’s got – but it’s almost like a clichéd thing to like Banksy now. I kinda look out more for people who haven’t been recognized yet and that’s where the fresher stuff is. There’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 – it’s just what you make of it – if you’re true to yourself then that’s good, people should like you for what you do.

Format: Which of the campaigns that you’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 couldn’t believe my luck – I’d been wearing Stussy for years and they were cool guys. I’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. I’m chuffed when I walk down the street and see some kid who doesn’t know me wearing my stuff – that’s the best feeling.

Mark Ward

Format: What was it about the Dunk that inspired you to create an installation?
MW: I grew up skateboarding and I’ve always had a fascination with America – especially coming from the suburbs – everything you wanted was in America. It’s the same with skating – 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 – how come they get to have little pictures on theirs’ but we’re not allowed them? It just seemed that we were being punished. All that’s kinda built into the Dunk artwork. There’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 ’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. It’s great that skateboarding and all that stuff has boomed again and it’s accessible to the kids, but I don’t think there’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 they’re not. To be honest, I’ve always been crap on a skateboard. I’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 must’ve done a whole series of skate decks for me and my mates.

Format: What’s your favourite medium to work in?
MW: I don’t really have one – there’s pro’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; it’s very messy and you can’t undo what you’ve just done. But if you’re working on a computer you can make corrections all the time. I guess my favourite medium is pencil and paper because that’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, there’s gonna be a show at the Stussy store – it seemed the natural thing to do. I’m building up a bank of work at the moment, so there will be a bigger show, hopefully by the end of the year.

Mark Ward

Format: What sort of thing should people expect from that show?
MW: Just randomness from my head, to be honest. It’s quite nice to be painting for myself and not for a client – just to be spilling out what I want to see. My parents think it’s a bit weird…

Format: I guess parents really just don’t understand…
MW: They think it’s very nice. “Tell me about your picture” – that’s what they say. [Laughs]

Format: What’s your soundtrack when you’re in the studio?
MW: I love 1980’s hip-hop, again because I wasn’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 we’re in the studio quite a lot. I’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 – I like some new stuff too. Stuff that can poke fun at itself. Goldie Lookin Chain are terrible, but at the same time they’ve got balls to be putting their name to it and having a laugh…

Format: Did any of your other classmates at St. Martin’s go on to excel in their chosen fields?
MW: There’s a guy called Tom Vek who I went to college with, he’s a very talented guy. He’s one talented guy who’s annoyingly good at everything. He’s a great guy; I’m not putting him down. Him and Chris Cairns, who’s now a film director working with Lady Sovereign and all that on music videos. He’s been listed in those Top 30 under-30 lists, so he’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 wouldn’t really say they were my friends but we kind of acknowledged each other in the hallway, but that was it. It’s funny because Danny and I weren’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 he’d learned in his classes – he would just tell me to forget what I was worrying about and get on with it.

Format: What’s next for Mark Ward after the Stussy show, then?
MW: I’ve got some projects that I’m working on that I’m not really allowed to say too much about – that sounds sooo pretentious…

Format: Not even a couple of clues?
MW: Erm – Burton Snowboards and some more stuff for Stussy. That’s all I can say.

Format: Can you finish the following statement: Mark Ward is….
MW: Knackered.

Mark Ward

Kobi Annobil

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