Meet the Artist: TB Ward

By Christy Knell
August 15, 2021

TB Ward might be the coolest guy we’ve ever met. The British Hastings-on-Hudson resident had a career as a legit rock star—recording and performing with his band Elevate throughout the 1990s—after which he refocused on painting and visual arts and exhibited in New York City, Philadelphia, and little ol’ Hastings-on-Hudson.

After years of focusing his work on ‘the line’ (“I look for line, whether it is made in pencil, a scratch on a surface or a piece of manipulated wire,” he has said in the past), his latest projects have much more organic, free compositions. He acknowledges a shift in his artist statement: “It’s 2021 and I feel the need to make beautiful paintings. It seems like the right thing to do.” And beautiful they are.

We’re delighted to display two of his pieces as part of our new Art Program—a platform to connect the HudCo community with a thoughtfully selected art collection from local artists.

You say that your work on a Sol Lewitt installation was a pivotal moment for you. Can you tell us more about when you decided to fully pursue a career as an artist?
It was a gradual process. I’d studied art at college but then, in 1990, concentrated my creativity toward music for a decade. I started painting again around 2000 and from there the ball kept rolling. Up until then, I think I’d always had a rather naive, overly romantic view of what it might take to be a painter, but the Sol LeWitt installation at the Embassy Suites Hotel in lower Manhattan was so huge and the team of artists so large (50 people) that I began to see things differently.

Each person’s role was very specific, repetitive, and purely practical, but in some ways it was freeing to think, “Ah ok, this is work, this isn’t a vague dream where some amazing end product suddenly appears.” It enabled me to break things down a little and understand that with practice and conviction, attention to detail, and time and honesty, I could hone my talent into something personal and ultimately meaningful.

How do you decide where to start with a piece? What makes you choose a specific size, or what color to pick up first, or the feeling of a composition?
I always work on multiple pieces at any one time to avoid getting too tied into a single idea. Each series is usually in response to a series that I’ve just previously made. I might confront what I perceive to be the deficiencies of those previous paintings or perhaps I might want to exaggerate an idea.

Oftentimes work is also dictated by physical circumstance. My most recent work is my largest series yet—canvases up to 12 feet long—and they were only able to happen because for the first time I had the space to make them happen. Sometimes the practicality of a physical situation defines the outcome, and I like to embrace that. If I have no studio at all (as is the case at the moment) I draw in a sketchbook.

It’s also important to note that my paintings are gradually built layer upon layer and so often the initial visit to the canvas has little or no bearing on the finished piece. Ultimately it will be hidden, it’s merely a starting point. This is not always the case, however—the first visit can sometimes haphazardly be the most important visit, where the piece defines itself through color or composition or something else unexpected. It’s really a battle to be aware, each step of the way, of all possibilities. It’s never the same way twice.

How does the environment of the Rivertowns influence your work? How would it be different if you were painting in the city or back in England?
The Rivertowns environment influences my work in that I am part of a community that values art and artistic endeavors. I do absorb the physical environment (I talk more about that in a later answer), but additionally, there is artistic ether that exists in the air and that has an impact on my life as a painter here. It is an environment of opportunities and collaboration. When I was living in rural Shropshire in England (2014-18), the countryside was beautiful and I could find places to paint where nobody was around, but it wasn’t a place where you could find a like-minded audience and honestly not enough people who appreciated art. Once I realised that, I just got my head down and concentrated on making paintings and forgot about trying to make anything happen with them. I lived in a bubble where the sole focus was on becoming a better painter, and building an inventory. It was fine for a while but without the oxygen of enough people who embrace art, and the balance of making art and sharing my work, it became quite a solitary experience.

What are your goals as an artist?
To keep evolving and working with intensity. The excitement and strife is really in the making of work—that’s the addictive part—but once a piece is finished, the satisfaction is fleeting (in fact I become a little uncomfortable if I bask in it for too long), so the impulse is to keep moving, keep creating. It’s also true that I love to sell my work because I like that my paintings are in people’s homes, in their lives. When someone buys a piece I can’t help but think of where I was when I made it and am sort of incredulous that it ends up where it ends up. My most recent sale was of a painting I made outside of a barn in the west of England in 2017 and now it’s up in New Paltz, NY. I like that. Having said that, it is a constant challenge to always promote my art myself and my goal is to get representation with an established gallery or find an agent or patron who wants to champion my work. I am fortunate enough to seem to have respect from many of my peers, which is something I cherish and hope will continue.

What artists/musicians/writers/TV shows do you enjoy these days?
Artists: Claude Monet, Tom Fairs, Pierre Bonnard, Eugene Delacroix. I’m currently reading John Meacham’s book, Franklyn & Winston. I’m watching the Olympics and Ted Lasso, and listening to Pere Ubu, Parquet Courts, Wire, and Silver Jews.

What do you do to take care of your body and mind?
I’m an avid cyclist. I raced bikes as a kid up until the age of 20 but then burned out and didn’t touch a bike for 15 years. I picked it up again in my late 30’s and now I’m back to being addicted. I ride 150-200 miles a week, somewhere in the region of 7000-8000 a year. When I’m riding, especially alone, I’m caught between two worlds – the physical reality of being on the roads and with traffic, and the other a meditative state where I’m almost not aware that I’m anywhere at all, simply moving through time and space. It plays a huge part in my artistic life, taking in the terrain around me, absorbing color and atmosphere and movement. I think I’m finally really tapping into it and my most recent paintings are certainly indebted to it.

TB Ward’s two large-scale pieces will be shown in the HudCo Conference Room through the fall of 2021. More details on the works can be found in the link below.