J.N. Ward creates fine oil paintings, mixed media pieces, and watercolors in addition to illustrations and comics.
What It is Like When You Are a Ghost
What It Is Like When You Are a Ghost is a small series of oil paintings about simultaneous presence and absence. Our memories and associations change in relation to where we find ourselves, which is something I think about during big transitions.
Wild pinks, blues, and purples bounce from ceiling to floor in a distorted bar scene, which tugs the viewer deeper into the image. White silhouettes of figures line the bar to the left, and a lone white figure sits at an angular table to the right. Fragments of color ricochet from glowing orbs of light. They cast extreme shadows around the room, but the energy and sound emanating from the orbs is muffled by the solid, static figures. Overlapping shapes and colors maintain a room full of activity whose patrons are suspended in a singular moment of time.
What It Is Like When You Are a Ghost, ex. 2
Oil on panel, 18" x 24". 2015
Masses of overlapping, white shapes form figures that are solid and transparent at the same time as they crowd around the edge of a bar. A few simple objects in the foreground anchor the viewer in this indistinct space. Squares of red and purple ease the transition throughout the room. The figures do not observe their surroundings. A warm glow from within the figures brings calm and stability to the claustrophobic setting. They are the only source of light in the dimly lit bar.
What It Is Like When You Are a Ghost, ex. 3
Oil on panel, 24" x 18". 2015
A portrait painting perches on top of an old, upright piano. The portrait comes forward to dominate a room made of layered and swirling shadow. A decorative bowl and lively ceramic owl stand guard in front of the figure in the painting who is a white mass with a glowing aura. The keylid of the polished piano is firmly shut. Every object in the room weighs soundless and heavy. A black and white pattern on the lamp to the viewer's right imitates a curling pattern on the wall like ivy. The only movement in the room comes from four orange circles floating mysteriously above the portrait on the piano.
What It Is Like When You Are a Ghost, ex. 4
Oil on panel, 12" x 16". 2015
A white solid and transparent figure faces the viewer and sits at a table as night descends upon it. The last vestiges of the sun glow green over a yellow house to the left where a porch light creates a staccato of circles. Its light radiates and rolls down the yard in a large, orange swath. The illumination leads to an angled table where bottles and mug align themselves. A dark shadow of trees encircles the figure as the night closes in.
Hidden Spaces are the spaces that are just around the corner and behind buildings. They are secret views. These watercolor illustrations are documentation of gateways into fantastic mysteries.
Behind the Bakery
Watercolor and ink on paper, 5.5" x 7.5". 2016
A sense of quiet settles over the cacophony of line and color to create the perfect hideout.
The mixed media drawings started as studies for larger paintings. They challenged me technically and emotionally in a way I wasn't expecting and turned into a work of their own. Sotheby's Super Southern Social was a show about memories of growing up in the South and changing traditional flag symbols in order to create a new Southern Woman icon, but most of all it was about bringing small-town community back to the arts.
Acrylic, collage, embroidery, ink, nails, pencil, and watercolor pencil on paper mounted on gessoed plywood, 20.25" x 33". 2015
70 faces from a high school football team look forward to the viewer. Each player is rendered in a grey pencil sketch outlined by a vibrant red line that runs through and connects the team. Solid black and severe shadows are slapped on top of the portrait. They create the figures instead of allowing the figures to cast their own shadow. The team is placed directly on top of and in front of a landscape composed of light white, green, and blue rectangles. The placement of the rectangles mirrors the Texas flag in its composition with a pine branch where the lone star should be. The pine branch is drawn and stitched into the paper's surface. Rather than pinning the pine branch down, varied green stitches bring it forward, imbuing the pine cones and needles with a relevance that is otherwise absent from the piece. Pine needles and cones also press against the bottom rectangle that supports the team while a thin ribbon of stars runs up and down the right side of the image behind the team. Aside from the stitches in the pine branch, the whole work is washed out, presenting the viewer with a fading but present and persistent memory.
A prominent piece in the show was a Southern style spread that one would find at any bridal or baby shower. I made all of the food myself and relied heavily on recipes from my deceased grandmother. Most of the food wouldn't belong at a modern shower these days. A table laid out for a big event in the South wouldn't be complete without a large flower arrangement . An over-the-top amount of irises, lilies, poppies, and snapdragons were purchased from a local farmer for the show.
Come and Take It (Initial Response)
Acrylic, ink, nails, and pencil on paper mounted on gessoed plywood, 40" x 27". 2015
A tall and imposing woman presents herself to the viewer as she stands with one hand on her hip. A star is placed above the woman's head, distinguishing her. She is drawn roughly by an active line that does not know what to do with its movement. She comes forward from a rough, black banner, and the words "Come and Take It" and a cannon are crudely painted over all. Smaller predetermined images of women stand behind and above the main figure. They make their way through the banner. The banner and the woman have presented themselves suddenly with a challenge daring the viewer to cross into their territory.
Come and Take It (Past, Present, and Future)
Ink, nails, pencil, rubber stamp, and watercolor pencil on paper mounted on gessoed plywood, 40" x 27". 2015
A floating island hovers over a neglected and overgrown ground of blue, flowering weeds. Broken, disassembled fragments of women rest like ruined statues deep in the undergrowth. Weeds reach up like a climbing vine. One bloom from the weeds touches a massive, full hydrangea blossom on the island. The blossom and the weed reach around the cusp of the inky surface of the island and touch one another. Like flowers over a garden gate, gigantic red azaleas and blue hydrangeas grow in an arc over a hard, black mass on the island. The blooms let out faint blue and red lines down towards the weeds and ruins below. The weeds and full flowered blooms reach out to one another and, together, anchor the island. The weeds continue to grow through the island and above it. In the archway the azaleas and hydrangeas create stand two smiling women with red stars that shine over their heads. They face the viewer and stand with small mice at their feet just behind a line that states, "Do not cross this line." Behind the women is a black flag bearing the image of a white cannon and white words that say, "Come and Take It." The posture and grace of the women is invites the viewer to join them.
Come and Take It (Creating an Icon)
Collage, Ink, pencil, nails, and watercolor pencil on paper mounted on gessoed plywood, 40" x 27". 2015
A bright blue line divides a white surface. Crouching on top of the line is a woman with vibrant, red azalea blossoms in her hair. Her face is calm and patient. In one hand she holds the small figure of a woman with a star above her head; in the other she gently pulls up a hooked line. What she has caught resembles a card. It shows an image of Colonel Coon's Wife Judy with a red star over her head. The image of Judy is comical and simplistic and shows her, as the text beneath her says, "stomping on a nest of wild kittens to death." The card is pulled from a diagonal line of azalea blossoms. Above the blue line with the woman are two crowds of smiling women, each with a red star above their head. They stand on either side of and behind her. One woman towards the front of the crowd on the right looks pleased as punch and wears a coonskin cap. The women in the crowds are significantly smaller than the woman crouched over the blue line, but their crowd is growing. Above the woman pulling Judy up and between the two crowds of starred women is a black, inky flag. It bears a diminutive image of a cannon, and words above the cannon tell the viewer, "Come and take it."
Come and Take It (Bound Up)
Ink, pencil, nails, and watercolor pencil on paper mounted on gessoed plywood, 40" x 27". 2015
Three vertical lines run down the page. Each line is formed by red stitches, a woman with a red star perched above her head, flowers, and a black square. The squares and women are placed in a row and are put into the same position as the other. The women stand in front of their respective squares and are encircled by threaded bunches of hydrangea and azalea blossoms. Every black square behind the women contains an image of a white cannon with white letters above the cannon that say, "Come and take it." The woman on the left smiles. She raises her hands behind her head in a position of leisurely enjoyment. Flowers wind their way around her body as the thread plunges back into the surface of the work. The woman on the right is also smiling, unaware of the ghostly, blurred flowers cascading around her. They position her between stitches above and below. Although the women on the right and the left are untroubled by their position, the figure in the middle looks straightforwardly to the viewer. She is drawn with a meandering line that conveys something just beneath the surface, something that is not present with the women on the right and the left. Smoking a pipe and wearing a coonskin cap the woman is uncouth compared to her neighbors. Azaleas and flowers become hazy as they engulf her. However, the stitching around the woman isn't set. Where the other women's thread tightens, the thread around the central figure is loose. The threaded needle is poised, ready to plunge into the surface of the image to pin the woman down, but it hasn't done so yet.
Come and Take It (Joining the Club)
Acrylic, ink, nails, pencil, and watercolor pencil on paper mounted on gessoed plywood, 40" x 27". 2015
A black and white, barefoot woman wearing a coonskin cap sits on a mound of grass with a flag in her lap. Next to her is a spool of red thread as she works needle and thread through the fabric of the flag. A small, smiling woman swings from the end of the the cheerful thread. The flag is black with white letters and a white cannon. The rough letters say, "Come and take it." A black line drips down from the flag to the bottom of the piece with a small woman sliding down it. The figure with the coonskin cap is perched comfortably on the edge of a hazy, grey-blue rectangle in the midst of bright blue hydrangea blossoms and transparent blue, flowering weeds. Two women stand as muses on either side of her. On the left the woman holds a flowering weed, and the woman on the right holds a hydrangea bloom. At the top of the rectangle, faint, red stitching reads, "Come and take it." Below the dreamlike oasis are ghosts of women who vary in size and appearance. All of the women in the image are marked by a red star above their heads. They are all distinguished and exist only with one another.
Acrylic, collage, embroidery, ink, pencil, nails, and watercolor pencil on paper mounted on gessoed plywood, 21" x 26". 2015
Soft blue drapes open to reveal an overwhelming display. Six white silhouettes of women pose around a table laden with trays, plates, and, in the center, a vase of red lilies. Blue embroidery thread amateurishly stitches it's way around the border of the piece and in a horizontal line through the women. A curving, delicate pattern formed by many small dots centers itself above the heads of the women and lives within their figures. Each figure speaks to a part of the pattern with a red speech bubble. The pattern is hung in the drapes and is present in the table cloth, and a separate floral pattern rubs itself heavily into the table cloth. Soft, pink light illuminates the silhouettes, and an army of gifts stands behind them. Light feminine touches make up the entirety of the scene, but constant, busy lines and repeated patterns bring a claustrophobic heaviness to the work.
Local women came together to participate in the bake sale, which was key part of the show. I wanted a way for people to actively participate in the show and way to foster ties in the community - the bake sale was the perfect way to do that. All of the proceeds from the sale were donated to a local non-profit organization, the Northwest Arkansas Center for Sexual Assault. From a small bake sale we were able to raise $184 for the organization.
The Baptist Hymnal
Acrylic, embroidery, nails, pen, pencil, and watercolor pencil on paper mounted on gessoed plywood, 44" x 27". 2015
An all white choir sings during the Sunday morning service at the base of a massive stained glass window. Each choir member is alive with black and white, cross-hatched detail and wears a heavy black robe. Together the choir forms the ground for an image that would otherwise float aimlessly on a misty, white surface. The space the figures occupy is vast and empty, punctured with red bricks that leaks red thread. The stained glass window looms over the viewer. It thrusts upwards to the very top of the page and consists of many rectangular panes. In the window Christ presents the parable of the sower to the viewer. The Christ is depicted in vague blue lines, blending and blurring together. Although the choir and the Christ are shown relatively realistically, what the viewer experiences is a hazy memory.
The Segregated Graveyard
Acrylic, collage, embroidery, nails, pen, pencil, and watercolor pencil on paper mounted on gessoed plywood, 21" x 43". 2016
A white, patchwork graveyard is divided into two sections. The larger section on the left contains various headstones, some in family plots. Each one bears the name, "My Heritage," and dates of birth and death. A smaller, fenced rectangular section is placed on the right. Active gray and black silhouettes travel within it, and weeds scatter throughout the rectangular patch. Small bricks and stone markers are the only feeble indicators that anyone is buried here. Between the divide, a white woman wearing a coonskin cap stands modestly looking away. Pine branches pierce her like arrows while ravens caw and flap around her. A breeze from the left carries hydrangea blossoms along with the woman beyond the headstones into the island of ghosts.
Their Time to Shine
Crayon, collage, colored pencil, embroider, nails, pen, pencil, and watercolor pencil on paper mounted on gessoed plywood, 19" x 30". 2016
Stunning yellow roses burst in celebration. They are bordered by transparent roses dancing across a pale blue sky. All of the roses form a circle that pushes a line of drill team dancers forward. The line is made of pink and brown women who balance in mid-high-kick, bracing one another for support. In the middle of the line a radiant, dark-haired woman stands in her drill team uniform. She is encased by a blue, red, and gold holy glow like the Virgin of Guadalupe. Diagonal lines radiate from the woman behind the drill team to the four corners of the image. Red embroidery stitching wraps around the corners of the paper, but the thread is frayed and torn as if it has been torn from an album.
The Isolated Experience
The Isolated Experience is a series of oil paintings and prints about missed moments. When I worked on these several relationships in my life were winding down. The paintings and prints of The Isolated Experience come from not wanting it to end just yet.
Two figures stand in a bright, light-filled kitchen on a mottled tile floor as the smell of dinner wafts through the air. In the foreground a woman on the left is turns towards the viewer with her hands on her hips, waiting. The woman with long dark hair to the right stands over the stove as heat rises to meet her face. In the kitchen window above the sink, a dark, arched doorway is reflected back towards the viewer, hovering just behind and over the two women. Bright whites and pale, soft blues and greens create a domestic scene that is muted by strong lines and grounded by stark shadows.
Laila, or I'm In Love With the City.
Block print and stencil on paper, 10" x 8". 2012
Edition of 6 numbered prints.
In the midst of a clean, white surface, an image rises to meet the viewer. A black and white figure crouches on a flat, green surface. The figure is looking ahead towards something we cannot see. Three distant buildings are lit from behind by a rich, blue skyline. Their shadows reach into the foreground to touch the figure, pulling them forward, but the figure remains grounded. The lines that create the print are rough and shaky, but the shapes they form are boldly solid.
Oil on canvas, 24" x 20". 2013
A cool, shadowed room is illuminated by daylight coming through a set of richly hued, brown blinds. On the far end of a velvet couch next to the window, a man leans awkwardly away, looking at an object in his hand. He is hazy and turns towards the darkness. The light on the wall above his head serves as an aura. Next to the man is a blue-black dog with its head tilted towards the viewer. It lounges on the couch engulfed by cushions, warmth, and softness. The dog is defined by shadow and light, and it's posture is the quintessence of calm and rest. Both the man and the dog are caught in a moment of stillness - a picture of yin and yang.
The Newly Wed
Oil on canvas, 24" x 20". 2013
A lone woman in a simple, grey t-shirt stands in a dark room against a large window. The blinds are pulled up, and white light pours into the room through the window, creating contrasts and folds in the fabric of her t-shirt. It bounces off strands of the woman's wavy hair and obscures her features, but we see that her face is set and determined. Heavy maroon curtains fall on either side of her to hide whatever it is her hand might be doing. She is encased in a threshold of light, straddling two worlds.
Thinking about home.
Oil on canvas, 24" x 30". 2013
A man dressed in black walks with a large, white dog in an arid landscape. They pause for a moment to look at the viewer across a dirt road. The tall yellow grass divides a vast, cloudy sky from the gravel and dirt of the earth while a hot breeze blows in from the west. The figures of the man and dog walk in the dry grass, passing through an unchanging land that is punctured only by old telephone poles and wire gates. Lines of communication stretch across the sky above their heads, but all they can hear are the multitude of grasshoppers and the whistling wind.
Oil on canvas, 24" x 20". 2012
A figure in the middle of a brightly colored yard sits cross-legged, resting on the cool, dappled concrete porch. A cup and a lighter are at hand and a cigarette is held in the figure's left hand; their right hand is lifted towards their hair as if to guard against something. Although the figure's body is turned towards the viewer their face is hidden from view by a tumble of silky, dark hair. Their gaze drifts across a vivid green yard, dotted with yellow and hemmed in by a dark rectangular wall overshadowed by vague trees. The figure looks towards two silhouettes of vehicles on the street and to the muddled red orange sky beyond. The scene is encompassed by an encroaching shadow, which brings the figure forward, forcing them to become the center of our attention.
Christmas lights only we can see.
Oil on canvas, 24" x 36". 2013
A brightly lit porch stands out in the middle of a cloud-covered, winter night. The porch is lively with objects that indicate their owners' activity. Strands of Christmas lights cast a red and pink patchwork onto the walls and roof of the porch. Three black rectangles - two darkened windows, and one front door - are balanced by the bright and reflective window on the left. It is full of yellow light, promising warmth and good cheer inside. A dark figure rises out of the yard to meet the porch, taking stock of the lights on a chilly night. There are no other homes or sources of light besides this home in the cool, night air.
Oil on canvas, 30" x 24". 2013
In a dimly lit bar we see a woman in front of us looking to her left. Her face is painted with blocks of pink and shadows of blue. The woman's long, black hair drapes across her shoulders to form a frame around her face. She sits still in a conversation, neither particularly enthralled or particularly bored, while behind her lively patrons are lit by warm yellows and greens. The lights above the bar form a pathway to a door from which the night life beckons.
I just don't feel like myself lately...
Oil on canvas, 12" x 12". 2013
Two figures in a small kitchen face away from one another into the edges of the painting. Small, dark objects adorn the windowsill above the kitchen sink, which is full of dishes waiting to be done. The window lets in a warm, hazy light touching the sink, dishes, and counter top without touching the figures. The two people are well defined with strong outlines in the midst of a kitchen that is full of blurred colors and soft edges. They work together, heads down, in a tight space without connection.
The Fifth Pallbearer
Block print and stencil on paper, 1' x 7'. 2013
One work made of six prints.
A single image repeats five times over on individual sheets of paper leading to a nearly empty sheet of paper at the end of the line. In the repeated image five men carry a coffin to a tent in a treelined graveyard. The men are composed only of black and white shapes. All of their heads are cast down. Tree branches intertwine, full of activity, zigzagging wildly against a flat, pale blue sky. A line of headstones separates the sky from the pale green yard. The headstones show up in blank, rectangular simplicity among the figures and the trees. The final sheet of paper is disconcerting. It contains only a haphazard black mark against a smudged imprint of sky and earth from the previous prints to let us know that something that should be here is missing.
The Fifth Pallbearer
Block print and stencil on paper, 9" x 12". 2013
A single image repeats five times over on individual sheets of paper leading to a nearly empty sheet of paper at the end of the line. In the repeated image five men carry a coffin to a tent in a treelined graveyard. The men are composed only of black and white shapes. All of their heads are cast down. Tree branches intertwine, full of activity, zigzagging wildly against a flat, pale blue sky. A line of headstones separates the sky from the pale green yard. The headstones show up in blank, rectangular simplicity among the figures and the trees.
To Each His Own
Oil on canvas, 30" x 36". 2013
Three figures sit together on a fallen log on a stony bank of the Puget Sound. The log that serves as their bench creates a line that moves towards the viewer, and a tree branch behind the them carries the line away; the lines create an ebb and flow that echo the rhythm of the water on the shore. Furthest away from the viewer, in the center of the painting, a woman gazes over her shoulder across the bank. The man to her right stares above her head into the distance while the woman closest to the viewer doesn't look around her at all but down at her hands and knees. The scene is littered with stones and tree branches awash in a clear white light that comes towards the figures from the left. They are surrounded and sheltered by nature, quiet among the rustling leaves and the sounds of wood and water, together and apart.
The Night Life
Monoprint, stencil, graphite, and acrylic on paper, 10.5" x 11". 2013
An obscure view of two figures standing in front of a window emerges from a white page. The flat, black figures are shown loitering from the waist up. The figure to the left looks directly at the viewer, lit from behind by an orange light. The figure to our right looks up and to the right. Faint graphite lines are drawn over the figures, and an energetic white line brings out their features in the dark. The structure that the figures are standing in front of is built by horizontal and vertical lines. They stand out from an inky black smudging itself through the scene, pressing itself around them. Although the night is still, the figures remain alert and active.
Orange and Blue
Oil on canvas, 24" x 20". 2012
In a warm and brightly lit space, a figure rests in a soft, orange chair. Their features are hidden by brown shadows, but light from the blinds of a large, white window to their right marks the figure with strong, geometric shapes. It makes its way from the top of the figure's head, down the curves of the chair, and into the rich, full carpet. The figure crosses one leg over the other and lifts their hand towards their face. A rainbow of soft blues and oranges play above the figure's head. In stark contrast everything the light from the window touches is crisp and sharp. Bold reds and intense hues define a small, round table to the right. Objects on the table - a glass, a mug, a picture frame, and a crumpled piece of paper - tell us that the space is lived in and comfortable. Highlights from the window merge the objects and the table. Orange and blue work together to provide dynamic contrasts in the scene, moving the viewer from stark, bold shapes to a place of soft and inhabited comfort.
Bad Mama Jamas
Bad Mama Jamas are watercolors of tough cookies and bold women who hold their own. I began painting them when I realized that I'm fantastic just the way I am. Bad Mama Jamas are the grown-up You Did It! and Way To Go! stickers for the up-and-coming woman who doesn't need to apologize.
Watercolor and ink on paper, 6" x 6". 2016
This woman is gonna' dish out some TLC - Tough Love, Cookie! She's got it, but she's not going to flaunt it for the likes of you.
Brushwork is a comic about personal growth. I kept the comics to myself until a friend suggested that I share them -- it had helped them to not feel so alone in their own struggles, and they thought it might help others, too. Buy your own 20 comics worth of Brushworkhere! Take a step back and learn laugh at your anxieties with Brushwork.