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Vincent Ward: Bodies of work

The human form becomes the artist’s canvas for filmmaker Vincent Ward, who invited photographer Adrian Malloch and writer Elisabeth Easther into his studio to document the creation of a new solo exhibition.

The female form is painted and garnished with chalk and plaster in the “Palimpsest/Landform” series, a new collection of work by Vincent Ward, who reaches for “a sense of a cartography exploring the outer regions of space”.


Opening night of Ward’s solo exhibition at Trish Clark Gallery in Auckland. This piece, from the “New Words Under The Old” series, is a still photograph using pigment ink on Hahnemühle paper.


Another image from the same series. The calligraphy loosely translates as “tracings of memory, man and nature integrated”.


For Ward, the creation of his art is an intensely private and intimate process. In a rare glimpse behind the scenes, photographer Adrian Malloch captured him in his studio using the physical forms of dancers Tallulah Holly-Massey (pictured above) and Georgie Goater (bottom left) as his canvas. The calligraphy is by Wang Dongling, considered to be one of the living masters of this ancient art. “The letters and words degrade over time,” says Ward. “The narratives fragment and disappear.”


For Ward, the creation of his art is an intensely private and intimate process. In a rare glimpse behind the scenes, photographer Adrian Malloch captured him in his studio using the physical forms of dancers Tallulah Holly-Massey (pictured above) and Georgie Goater (bottom left) as his canvas. The calligraphy is by Wang Dongling, considered to be one of the living masters of this ancient art. “The letters and words degrade over time,” says Ward. “The narratives fragment and disappear.”


For Ward, the creation of his art is an intensely private and intimate process. In a rare glimpse behind the scenes, photographer Adrian Malloch captured him in his studio using the physical forms of dancers Tallulah Holly-Massey (pictured above) and Georgie Goater (bottom left) as his canvas. The calligraphy is by Wang Dongling, considered to be one of the living masters of this ancient art. “The letters and words degrade over time,” says Ward. “The narratives fragment and disappear.”


In spite of the frigid air in Ward’s Mt Roskill studio and a complete absence of clothing, Holly-Massey’s face remained a picture of calm throughout the shoot – even when a heater was placed too close to her toes.


Ward daubed green paint onto his models, who had been covered in white clay that dried and cracked on their skin. Both women were prepared to endure all manner of hardships in the name of art. Dancers are made of stern stuff.


Growing up in the backblocks of the Wairarapa, filmmaker and artist Vincent Ward (Vigil, What Dreams May Come, River Queen) was always fascinated by landscapes.

“Because I was relatively isolated, my experiences were to do with observing, of being a part of the landscape; and because my mother [a German refugee] was going through a hard time, I took great care to get out of her hair, as far away as possible. To get away, I would roam.”

Cut to the present, Ward’s roaming has brought him to Auckland, where he has just staged his first exhibition of new work in four years. Palimpsest/Landscapes uses both film and photography to connect landforms with human emotions using bodies in place of canvas. “I was trying to physicalise our landscape, to make where we live, our environment, human.”

Ward admits he was a little nervous about allowing a journalist to observe one of 14 shoot days and what was, in all honesty, a fairly eccentric set.

Picture this: two dancers, both women; one redhead and one brunette. They’re both naked, their bodies covered in white clay, smears of paint and something that looks like moss. And it’s freezing in Ward’s cavernous studio.

With the camera just centimetres from their flesh, the naked dancers lie in a tangle of strings on a wooden bed of silver foil, the plaster drying and cracking on their goosebumped skin. “This is going to be messy,” says Ward, slathering one of the women with avocado, diced green kiwifruit, tamarillo pulp, clay and powdered colours, puffs of sponge.

“Explore your inner landscapes,” he instructs, from behind his monitor. “Find a shape within yourself, and I’ll tell you what it looks like from my point of view.”

Cue the dry ice, mist, gentle rain and steam. “Don’t wet my lens,” Ward warns one of the crew as the elements drizzle and fly.

“The process is relatively experimental,” Ward explains, amid the controlled chaos. “Like a laboratory. You go into something with an idea, a theme, but you never know how it will materialise. It won’t make sense, what you see today. But it will. This is a very layered process.”