One of Cayman’s most prolific and popular artists, Avril Ward has recently rediscovered a long-held passion for sculpture. Business Editor Lindsey Turnbull speaks with Avril in her art-filled Bodden Town home and charts her artistic path that has led her full circle.
You could imagine an artistic type living at Avril Ward’s home even if you did not know that an artist resided within; the entranceway having strategically placed art work on the walls and attractive pots dotting the ground. Inside, and there is no mistaking an avid painter at work, with various sized odes to Avril’s talent adorning walls throughout the light and airy open plan home.
Step inside her art studio which adjoins the home and you enter the world of a passionate artist, with canvases in various stages of completion decorating the walls and floors and all the usual tools of the trade stocked throughout.
Avril says she has been creating artwork for most of her life and had a successful faux-finish and mural business in her native South Africa. After moving out of the big city to the country, Avril turned to fine art as an outlet for her creativity, thus turning to the canvas rather than the wall as a backdrop for her work.
Finding herself rather successful at painting (she sold her work through a private gallery) Avril began to paint prolifically.
“My style was conceptual and rather more realistic than it is now and as we lived in a semi-desert the colour palate that I worked with was muted and neutral, with charcoal and texture important elements in my work,” she says.
Avril, husband Nick and son Daniel moved to Grand Cayman almost eight years ago and Avril says at that time she moved all her artwork here from South Africa.
“I was incredibly bold when I first arrived in Cayman!” she exclaims. “I teamed up with The Cracked Conch restaurant and invited absolutely everybody we knew at that time, (which wasn’t too many) to an exhibition called ‘An Introduction to Avril Ward’, in which I showed my work that I had created in South Africa. I did quite well considering no one had heard of me then and sold six paintings at that show.”
Living in Cayman, says Avril, gradually altered her style over time and over the next few years Avril’s colour palette took on a Caribbean hue.
She explains: “It was not a conscious decision that I made, more a gradual inclusion of brighter colours into my work that reflected the Caribbean backdrop against which I was painting.”
Avril says that her style also loosened up considerably over the following years and says: “I don’t now feel the need to strive for realistic images and I feel I can be a lot more spontaneous with my work. I still have in mind what I want to paint and I know where I’m going but I am finding more that I let the properties of the paint lead the direction.”
‘Paint stringing’ is Avril’s recent passion and the flowing looseness of her work can be found in many of her most recent paintings, as Avril uses a mix of pigment and binder to create very loose paint that has a cohesive haphazardness to it, creating distinct movement in her work. And even though there are definite elements of free flowing abstract, the painting always nails down a theme with a touch of realism to ground the viewer.
Avril has exhibited in group and solo shows over the years, usually undertaking one solo show annually, including the highly successful Long Hot Summer exhibition which was so successful she sells prints of the work created in that exhibition. Her ‘I am Woman’ exhibited at the Westin Casuarina was also a great success, exploring the concept of the female form and persona. Her most recent solo show was “Conceptual Diversity” where her change of style was evident.
She also came fourth in an international competition earlier this year in the New York-based Art for Progress competition which is geared up to finding new and exciting artists. Her artwork is also featured in a book, Anthology of Friends, produced by the artistic community related to Ovation TV (a TV network dedicated to arts and culture) and her work will also appear in the follow up book, which focuses purely on nude paintings.
Last year Avril became a director of the Visual Arts Society and has played an integral part in developing the Society into a vibrant and exciting centre for the visual arts in Cayman. The recent purchase of a kiln by the VAS and the discovery of a new type of clay has fired up Avril’s imagination and set her on a path that she is currently finding incredibly stimulating and rewarding.
“Sculpting has actually always been my first love, artistically-speaking,” she explains. “I have always enjoyed sculpting because working in 3D has a totally different feel to a two dimensional creation. One actually builds the form rather than represents a form as you do in painting and the end result can looks so different depending on the angle that you view it from. I used to sculpt a great deal and am just rediscovering the art after a break of about 18 years.”
A new type of clay that contains cellulose has made all the difference to her work, she says. ‘One can work this clay in a way that is impossible with traditional clay. The partially finished piece can be dried for strength and more clay added to it when needed, without affecting the initial work.
“It’s brilliant to work with because you can gradually build up your work in a timely way,” Avril explains.
Armed with her new tools Avril is currently on a sculpting spree, creating figures and animals that are all centred on ideas and themes.
“My work is still very conceptual. I’m exploring ideas and relationships, both between humans and between humans and God. There is also a bit of humour in my work – goodness knows with all the uncertainty in the world right now we can all do with a bit of lightheartedness!” she exclaims.
Indeed, her work is touching and illuminating, with ‘Earth Mother Evolution’ a really clever look at the Caribbean/African woman emerging and growing, while ‘Weak at the Knees’ and ‘Chemistry’ explore the intensity of love within a relationship. ‘Too much cake’ and ‘Wasn’t me’ are delightful observations of children’s characteristics. Avril says she took inspiration for the figures from children’s self portraits- their tendency towards drawing disproportional big heads, straight limbs oversized hands and feet..
“I’m really in my element,” Avril states. “With a bit of luck and hard work I will have enough sculptures to hold a new and exciting solo show later this year or early next. I’m sculpting artwork that I really love, I am feeding my soul and hopefully others will get the same pleasure out of them as I have had creating them.”