Seattle Artist Series:
Ryan Henry Ward
It’s a grey evening in Pioneer Square. I wait outside of an inconspicuous door on 2nd and Main before Ryan emerges, giving me a hug and a smile. We chat for a second before he brings me downstairs through a maze of construction. The harshness of the halogen lights accentuate the high ceilings and brick archways, making the space feel even more vast. Ryan works big and he works a lot. His murals spill colors on businesses and back yards alike, casting playful, primitive characters with a sly, pop-surrealist spin. With the help of a couple of artist friends, he is painting every room in this space, soon to be a putt-putt wonderland bar. It feels like a larger-than-life project, but that’s the pattern for everything Ryan does these days. Katy, his black lab, gives me kisses and I pull my camera out. Ryan gets to work. I ask him a few questions as we go.
“I started painting when I was sixteen years old. I did a set of paintings for everyone in my family for Christmas and that was the start of it – I’ve painted all of the way through high school and college, experimenting with every medium there was from then on. I didn’t get a strong direction with my work until shortly after college which was when I started taking pictures out of my sketchbooks and turning those characters into paintings. Before that, I kept the painting world and character world in two different places. It started turning into something people wanted.”
Several days later, I meet Ryan at his Ballard Studio. Katy greets me with a delighted jump, then attacks my shoelaces, chasing them around for the rest of the hour. Ryan’s space is minimal, but his work fills the room with color. He shows me his new paintings and his most recent ad in The Stranger. We talk about books and fame as I take more portraits. Afterwards, we take Katy out for a walk at the Ballard Locks as the sun is setting.
“I’m interested in how my work effects people, but that’s not why I create it. I get lost in self-expression. It’s more interesting to me to just make something and see how people feel.”
“No matter how big I get in Seattle, I’m still small as far as being an artist goes. Where we’re at in history, being a big name doesn’t even mean that much. What’s the point of any of it? My whole art career is not about what I can prove to the world, it’s what I can prove to myself. There’s no visual artist that’s going to be as big as Justin Bieber. There’s no artist that could come out of Seattle that’s going to be bigger than Jimi Hendrix. The world really doesn’t give a shit.”
“I’ve been making up characters since I was a kid. I made the first one when I was five. I wanted to do Sunday Morning Cartoons when I was little and I remember my grandpa telling me ‘you can’t copy those guys, you gotta make your own’. I didn’t want to draw Garfield or Bart Simpson. From a very young age, my desire was to create something original. And I succeeded, I think.”