Kofi Forson in Conversation with Tony Ward
Tony Ward, artist, actor, model icon, first made his imprint on the scene as model by working with acclaimed fashion photographers as the late Herb Ritts and Steven Meisel. He gained a sense of notoriety in music videos, Justify My Love, Erotica, among many others. A legendary role in the low- budget film Hustler White added to his misterioso appeal. A burgeoning career as an artist in the early 1990’s has resulted in his current status as painter. He along with his partner, Daniel Rivas will soon undertake what he calls "a rock and roll art tour", making stops through Europe.
Kofi Forson: It was great to see you the other day. What were you doing in New York?
Tony Ward: I was there to shoot a cover story for Tokion Magazine.
KF: This would mean a modeling job?
TW: Actually it’s based on my art work with my partner Daniel Rivas. I came up with an idea for a portrait…kinda like Richard Avedon. For the cover shot we recreated one of our paintings. I am Daniel’s character and he is mine. It’s really a bizarre painting called Give Me Head…
KF: How long have you been painting?
TW: I started painting around the early 90’s for about four years during the time when I was hanging out with Lady M. She wanted to see me develop as an artist. She helped me get art supplies as well as an agent but that was at a serious time in my life when I was a mad-drunk-drug addict-fool. (Laughter)
KF: What happened to these paintings?
TW: Honestly some of these paintings were done while I was in rehab. I painted only on found objects, plywood for example. I did some paintings in Japan on paper. All of those paintings have dispersed into the universe. Some people have some of these original pieces. Others I gave away. I painted for about four years then I quit. I picked up the camera and started shooting.
KF: Back during the time of Lady M. she must’ve taken you through some art circles. Did you get a chance to meet artists you admired…perhaps work with some of them?
TW: Strangely enough I just met Francesco Clemente. Seriously I haven’t met notable painters. I met David Hockney years ago. (Sigh) Funny about me I’m more interested in the energy of artists.
KF: There has to be artists in general who have inspired you.
TW: My favorite painter when I became aware of art was Picasso. A lot of people start out with that rudimentary style of painting. Painters are interesting to me…Toulouse Lautrec, Egon Schile, Francis Bacon…I love Russian Propaganda art. I love artists who are anguished in their art like Van Gogh. I guess artists I’m impressed with are not around any more (Laughter)
KF: So then how important is the bio of an artist to the art?
TW: I think it’s vital. I think of myself as a millennium painter. I’m recording in time and history what I’m experiencing today. Decades from now they can say this is a recording of humanity…encapsulated in my point of view. What I’m doing at the moment is colorful but there’s a heavy subject matter and commentary underneath it all. I try to keep it raw whether I’m painting a dick or someone’s brain splattered open. It’s an example of what I’m thinking about or how I view life in the present day.
KF: How do you explain the idea of being a successful male model and living the role of an artist…be it tragic or not?
TW: Let me make a quick comment on the tragedy aspect. I don’t view myself as a tragic artist. I lived a fantasy much like the Dash Snow and Terry Richardson’s of the world. People who live this dark and ugly thing we go through. (Sigh) Before I went into my second rehab I was doing a lot of painting and I was on heroin. I was shooting heroin. It was my reality at the time. I had an epiphany, awareness and an awakening. I actualized that romantic ideology of being a suffering person. I’m speaking more truthfully. I try to put my clarity into what I’m currently working on. Thing is if you’re on crack, heroin, alcohol, absinthe or whatever…that’s your vision. That’s your view of life. The art is created and filtered through that substance. As for now I don’t drink. I don’t do drugs. I’m very conscious of what I’m doing and saying. I’m not suffering anymore.
KF: It must be difficult to deal with how the media portrays you?
TW: I think with time the image becomes broader. I’ll just make this quick comment. I lost a lot of jobs based on how people portrayed me…whether as an ex-porno star or hustler it all relates to me because we’re hustlers in our own way on whatever level. If you’re a dirty mother-fucker or a good guy getting off on a thing, whatever your thing is we do a job and get paid.
KF: Your film credits include Hustler White. Are there any films we should look out for?
TW: Yeah, Story of Jen…It opens in Paris on June 10.
KF: I can’t help but ask you about Mickey Rourke.
TW: I’ve known Mickey for a long time. We used to hang a bit.
KF: Seems like it’s not a forgiving industry but good to see him make a triumphant return.
TW: It’s interesting how people almost destroy themselves…Always great to see a comeback. (Sigh) I’m almost 46. I’m still modeling.
KF: What plans do you have for your paintings?
TW: Danny and I have put together an art tour.
KF: Is this like a rock and roll art tour?
TW: We were painting on the same canvas. The response was so good we decided to stick with the collaboration. We found ourselves a manager. Now we’re headed to Amsterdam and other places in Europe.
KF: Congratulations on your work for the new GUESS campaign.
TW: Thanks. It was worth the wait.