Mairi Ward: Moving Mountains


When artist Mairi Ward sent me a photo of the view from her studio in northern Tasmania, I was immediately struck by the beauty of her location. From the inside of a wood panelled interior, huge arched windows look out in Von Trapp-style splendour to a lilac expanse of mountainous bushland, with sprigs of flowering vegetation and the occasional wallaby coming right up to the door. With such picturesque surroundings, it is almost guaranteed that some of these elements will end up in the art she creates.

Ward says many of the paintings in Moving Mountains are influenced by people and places. “The location I’m living and working from has a huge impact on my artworks. I’m very drawn to repetition in nature and life. The colours and textures that surround me are a strong personal influence, shaping and changing who I am, and this comes through in the works.”

In the context of the recent bushfires in Tasmania, the patterns Ward creates remind me of how nature regenerates, its tiny microcosms teeming just beneath the surface, ready to spring into action.

Within her arrangements of dots, line and colour, there is a contradictory sense of wild abandon and orderly precision to the marks Ward makes. Repetitive pattern and splashes of colour dominate paintings like More than words, 2019, offering a multi-layered vision melded together in a dense yet balanced composition. Despite their visual activity, there is a sense of calm to Ward’s paintings. “My works are abstract and not intended to be visually representative of anything in particular, but they capture how a place makes me feel,” Ward explains. “My process is very intuitive and when swept up in the act of painting, my marks are very immediate.”

In addition to the paintings, a small series of ceramic pieces is included in Moving Mountains. Made from Les Blakebrough’s Cool Ice porcelain, Ward creates functional objects (pots, cups and bowls) and embellishes them with repetitive patterns. For her ceramic objects Ward focuses on a single or minimally decorative element like a computer keyboard key or colourful, interlocking dots. “I find painting and ceramics very different art practices,” says Ward. “The paintings are a form of abstract expressionism and reflect my inner and outer world. The ceramic pieces are more of a craft, I enjoy making them and love creating a handmade object I can apply patterns to.”

A love of travel is also a recurring influence on Ward. In the late 1990s she spent time traveling through Nepal, Tibet, Europe, England and Northern Africa, observing diverse cultures and ways of living. Although she is currently focusing on academic study, Ward believes the experiences of travel still find their way into her paintings. “The works in Moving Mountains represent shifts in my life and emotions,” she says. “Painting is a way for me to process, learn about and become more comfortable with myself and how I’m situated in the broader scheme of things.”

Moving Mountains
Mairi Ward
Handmark Gallery, Evandale
10 February – 6 March

Preview Words by Briony Downes