Nick Ward: Portrait from the Web

Nick Ward: Portrait from the Web

Nick Ward | Portrait From Web, Portrait From Life (2) | Oil on panel | Two panels, each 30"x40" | April 2016

Nick Ward | Portrait From Web, Portrait From Life (2) | Oil on panel | Two panels, each 30"x40" | April 2016

Please explain the process for this work. Tell us about the series in general.

This series focuses on the disconnect between our digital, and real world lives. Since more and more of our time is spent interacting online, and photographs are no longer constrained to one (or at most, a few) copies, our images are increasingly subject to misuse by anonymous strangers. This is especially true for attractive young women, who often find their most private digital moments taking on a life of their own.

For these paintings, I asked volunteers to send me a text message, or email, with an image that they would normally intend only for a significant other to see. I take this image and crop it so that their face is hidden; so their identity is somewhat lost, and sexual nature of the photograph takes center stage. Next the image file is corrupted using a script that randomly changes bits of the code. For me, the resulting image glitch signifies the end of the useful life for this image. The point where if the image had been shared, the image would no longer be beautiful enough to be forwarded along again. This version of the image is used as reference for the first panel of the painting.

Once I have started working on this panel, the model is asked to visit the studio to sit for a more traditional portrait, exposing her face so that she can reclaim ownership of the image of her body.

Working on this series has been an interesting challenge. Because, the first image is taken by the model herself, I have no real control of the starting point of each diptych. Because the image is sent to me in a text message, it is generally fairly low resolution. Finding ways to integrate the two images into a more composed piece has been problematic. Information has to be added to the low resolution text message image and edited out of the formal portrait, so that the two paintings can meet in the middle with similar levels of detail. At this point, I am starting to figure it all out, so I’m starting to be pretty happy with the resulting pieces.

Where do you see it going?

At this point, I am just happy that most people seem to understand what they are looking at without some big artist statement. I’m planning to make at least 5 or 10 of these pieces so hopefully, once I have a few more, I will find somewhere to hang them all together. Beyond that, I don’t know. I have started experimenting a bit with using glitched video files as reference for another related series of paintings, so you should be seeing the first of those soon.


Nick Ward is figurative painter and printmaker who attempts to find innovative new ways to use portraiture. Originally from a small town outside Portland Oregon, Nick currently resides in the Roslindale neighborhood of Boston, MA. His work has twice earned him the Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation grant for painting.

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