Galleries : From Real to Whimsy : Ovid Ward
The vividly detailed, photorealist paintings of Edgartown artist Ovid Ward will be exhibited in "Surfaces," a show opening this weekend that marks the Louisa Gould Gallery's fifth anniversary.
Mr. Ward's paintings combine the clarity of photographs with the mastery of his artistic translation. "People are very particular about the details," he says. "If a boat's not right, they don't like it."
He finds interpreting marine scenes and water images in acrylic challenging, but they are what he most enjoys painting, and play a prominent role in his canvasses.
Mr. Ward brings his background in automobile design and boat design and building to his art. One of his more unusual assignments was a redesign of the Oakland, Calif. waterfront. While living in California, he saw an ad for the commission, and got the job by submitting a drawing of the Edgartown waterfront.
"I sure pulled the wool over their eyes," Mr. Ward says in his characteristically wry manner. But the quality of the prolific artist's work confirms the city knew what it was doing.
The son of an Island native, Mr. Ward grew up boating on Edgartown harbor. During summers in the early 1950s, he passed his days rowing around the harbor with his cousin Phil Reynolds. "I bet I put a thousand miles on the water," Mr. Ward says.
He studied at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif., one of the world's best-known graphic and industrial design schools, in preparation for his career in car design at Chrysler in Detroit. He worked there for four years, earning a master's degree in design at Wayne State University. But all the while, what he wanted to be was a boat designer.
Working on the Oakland waterfront project proved to be a stop along the way to that goal, and a short-lived job designing for Hatteras Yachts followed. When Mr. Ward decided Hatteras - one of the first companies to use fiberglass for boat hulls - wasn't giving him proper credit for his designs, he left the company.
"I decided to come to Martha's Vineyard and learn how to build boats," he says. "So I got a job at the Matha's Vineyard Shipyard." Mr. Ward spent a year there, producing Wasque 31's, a fiberglass lobster-style boat.
Then he formed Daffy Duck Marine. and from 1976 to 1992, produced 24 boats on his own. Quite a few are still on the Island, including Buddy Vanderhoop's charter boat, "Tomahawk." In the mid-1980s, Mr. Ward built and drove "Hi-Ho Silver," the boat that set the speed record around Martha's Vineyard. His career in boat building ended when a business partner ran off with his prototype.
In 1988, a friend suggested he put his paintings, which Mr. Ward had created to decorate the walls of his home, in an Island show at the Kelly House. Three galleries asked to hang work, and he discovered he had a new career.
"I never thought I'd be an artist," Mr. Ward says. "I sort of fell into it." Building boats involved long hours seven days a week. "It's a calling, an almost incurable disease, but I got over it," he says.
He also got over a bout with lung cancer last year, losing a lung and undergoing chemotherapy before he was declared fit again. He suspects his exposure to asbestos while building boats led to the illness, and he credits his fiancée, Hyannis realtor Susan Cahoon, with urging him to get the chest x-ray that uncovered the tumor.
"It certainly makes me appreciate waking up in the morning," Mr. Ward says of his recovery. It's also gotten him many commissions from people who want to make sure they own an original Ovid Ward painting.
Photorealism is not the only mode of painting Mr. Ward does. He also creates large, abstract canvases where a tiny flower, an airplane, or a figure emerges out of a streak of color swirling over the canvas. He calls them his "whimsicals."
"I smack some paint on the canvas, and away I go," he says. "They're a lot of fun. There's no forethought or planning."
Mr. Ward's typically busy and varied schedule last week included work on a commission of a view of Vineyard Haven harbor from inside a pilothouse. On his kitchen table was a model car he designed for an automobile industry contest he won as a teenager, and he was heading to Boston with it for a reunion of contest winners.
Mr. Ward's paintings will be teamed with Louisa Gould's stunning marine photographs taken from her new book, "Wooden Boats," and the revealing Island landscapes of John Holladay.
"Surfaces," at the Louisa Gould Gallery opens with an artists' reception Saturday, August 16, from 5 to 8 pm. The show will run through Aug. 28.
Brooks Robards reviews art, film, theater, and books for The Times.