Everyone has concealed, repressed, and latent personality traits we keep in the dark. In psychoanalysis this part of the psyche is called the shadow self. The famous analyst Carl Jung wrote that this universal, dark underside of the psyche is “the thing a person has no wish to be.” Yet, the shadow self is not simply a source of pain, shame, and conflict. When it is brought to the light—and accepted for what it is—it can provoke a great range of insights and creative impulses. Embracing the shadow, while difficult, provides a greater depth of character and individuation. This process of shadow integration takes many forms and can be seen in a grouping of recent work by Robyn Ward.
Ward was born in Dublin in 1982 and raised in Belfast during the peak of civil conflict of the Irish “troubles.” He takes his personal experience of chaos, governance, and destruction while commenting on the breakdown of society, relating it to both historical and modern-day global disputes. Using wet, loose brush strokes with distinctive markings he tells this story through a nostalgic veil of innocence and naivety, revealing snapshots of the past while simultaneously obscuring or hiding others. “Each layer depicts a different fragment of time” Ward comments “often they are screen-shots of parts of my life.”
In much of his previous painting, Ward embraced a more formulaic, figurative style. Canvasses were diligently sketched out and filled in with objects that suggest an affinity for hyperrealism and elements of Pop-Art. The paintings and objects in this exhibition speak to a new, distinct visual language from Ward. They are both interconnected and spontaneous; a wide array of often primary or unmixed colors seep between the medium to large-scale canvasses, replicating color schemes in a highly abstracted manner. Gone are the signature, realistically painted motifs of his own life seen in Ward’s earlier canvases.
These new works are largely composed of wide, vigorously applied brushstrokes and emphatic paint splatters. Taken as a whole, they speak to the sensibility of an artist undergoing a significant transformation. These are the works of a man embracing his shadow.
Growing up in Northern Ireland during the end of the twentieth century was a difficult experience for Ward on both a personal and political level. The intensity of civil conflict—bombings, assassinations, massacres—translated to a sense of rage amongst his childhood peers. Proximity to violence of this caliber can certainly traumatize a person, and both amplify and excavate the latent shadow self.
Yet, mapping the effects of trauma can rarely be attributed to a single event. A traumatic experience is mutable, it is given potency through the psyche’s efforts to evade or suppress it. Trauma—and its roots—is often elusive and attempting to describe or model it risks becoming so figurative that it becomes mythic fantasmagoria.
To understand Ward’s work as a simple, autobiographical manifestation of his personal trauma would neglect so much of its relatability and reduce the complexities of his own narrative. Ward’s art, through its grace and its strife, speaks to the universal human experience of grappling with the darker, more sinister part of our psyche. This psychological arbitration of balancing the ego and its shadow can take a lifetime to navigate and can often feel so disorienting that it is akin to walking in the dark.