This is a preview of our piece on Hana Ward, which will be featured in upcoming issue 20, out this October.
Black and Japanese-American artist Hana Ward’s work spans traditional painting to intricate ceramics that form unconsciously in dialogue with one another. Having studied Education at Brown University, Ward never saw art as a career path, but never allowed this constraint to hinder her love of painting.
I visited the LA-native back in June, just when the effects of the pandemic were (seemingly) starting to wear away. Despite the clutter of her studio, you could feel a meditative vibe about, where the abstracted figures, juxtaposed on backgrounds of varying melancholic color combinations harked back to her inspirations in Matisse and Gauguin. Ward had recently exhibited at Ochi Projects, an art gallery on Washington Boulevard, which was special for the artist, having grown up nearby. When I visit her studio, she is busy at work with a number of shows in the fall. We catch up to discuss the pandemic, her practice and the influence beneath the surface.
Tell me about where you grew up.
I’m from LA, grew up about fifteen minutes north of here, right off Washington Boulevard. I’m lucky to be represented by Ochi Projects because I feel Washington [laughs]. I grew up in a house right across the street. My dad moved here from Oceanside, but my mom has been here for many, many generations.
Did you see art as a viable career path?
I didn’t see art as a path, really, but I definitely participated in it. Both my parents are artists. My mom has her own graphic design business, and she used to paint a lot when I was young. My dad works in student newspapers, and he used to do graphic design and paint when I was young, too. He still kind of does. I was around it and in art classes in the summer. My elementary school also really nurtured the creative side in people—it was UCLA’s Creative Lab School.
Can you talk about your recent show at Ochi Projects?
That show came together pretty quickly. I couldn’t even start until the end of January and the show was in March. I hadn’t been in my studio for a while, so I busted out a bunch of paintings and midway through, I was like, What are these paintings about? I feel like there’s a story here. I put them in an order, and I realized of course it makes sense—the paintings are about what I’d been reading and thinking about the six months prior.
During the pandemic, I’d gotten into this wormhole of books on mindset. I was practicing that more and paying attention to my thoughts and just being conscious. I hadn’t really thought about that much before. Cultivating this mind that I wanted that was going to support me in the way that I wanted. So these paintings were telling that sort of story. Even since the show, that thought has grown further—what I’ve been meditating on has progressed. I was also making the analogy of the mind and fertile land—where your mind is something that you have to take care of and cultivate. And now I’ve been really interested in soil and the state of our soil on the planet and how it’s a threatened resource.
Is there a medium you prefer more?
I think painting. I enjoy every aspect of it, even the difficult parts where you don’t know what you’re doing [laughs]. With ceramic, sometimes it feels like a chore. I know I need to make one hundred fifty of these, so that’s why it can feel like that. I think the hard thing about painting is it’s very exploratory, and you don’t exactly know what you’re doing. Every time I finish a body of work and come back to the canvas, I feel like I’m teaching myself all over again.
Would you say your work has a commentary on race relations?
For sure, my work is a lot about liberation. It’s something I’m constantly thinking about. Where it’s informed by various historical facts. For example, this painting is totally not ready, but my mom sent me a clipping of those wanted ads for slaves that have escaped. The slave’s name was Hannah and the way it was written was interesting. The text is about how she looks and the last sentence says she’s probably making her way up the Mississippi River now—the feeling I got from it, there’s something about the feeling of that last sentence I really gravitated toward. A feeling of freedom, of escape, particularly rooted in Black freedom.
For me, even my current work, cultivating your own thoughts—all of it is really about empowerment. I think it’s something that Black women are not particularly reminded of very much—of their own inner mental power. All my work ties to Black liberation.
I have it written here, this work that I hope to create one day. This quote is from a documentary on black holes. It’s about how black holes are going to grow so big and eat our universe, but there’s this line that says, “Long dormant black holes flare up in a blaze of glory.” I really liked that image in relation to this large collective of Black consciousness recognizing its power and divinity within.
For more from Hana Ward, follow @hanaisdrawing on Instagram.
Photography by Shaughn and John.