I first met London-based designer Mark Ward at college, and I’ve been impressed (not to mention slightly jealous) to see how successful he’s been since graduating. With a client list that reads like a who’s who of the biggest brands in streetwear (Nike, Stussy, Medicom, New Balance, DC, New Era and Silly Thing just to name a few), he’s still managed to remain not only a nice chap but also refreshingly humble about what he does. Which is why it was unusual to see him thrust into the limelight recently, painting live at his solo show at London’s Nike Town store as part of the ongoing ‘Year of the Dunk’ celebrations (for which he was also commisioned to create a window display for famed sneaker store Foot Patrol). We sat down with Mark to find out a little more about the Nike commision, skateboarding, hamburgers and his recent move into freelance design…
Interview by Will.
Many people will have seen your work gracing Nike Town London and the windows of Foot Patrol. How did the Nike Dunk project come about?
Nike invited me to do it, as they felt my work and background fitted the brief. The whole "Be True" ethos had to stand, and I’m happy they chose me to do it.
What is it about your work that attracted Nike?
I guess my work is heavily influenced by American sports, probably due to it being a complete contrast of what I grew up around. People always want what they can’t have. I was never really into football etc. but when Channel 4 started showing American Football on TV, I was instantly hooked. I started studying all the logos and mascots. It opened up a world of imagery that was always out of reach for a kid growing up in England. Then I got into skating, and the graphics again also had a major hold over me. It was all the stuff we were told not to do in art class as a kid, and there were people doing it for product I was buying. I knew I had to get involved somehow…
Is this the first time you’ve painted live? How was the experience?
This is the first time I’ve officially painted live, but I”ve been painting in front of people before. To be honest I’m not 100% comfortable with it. It stops the creative process for me, and starts becoming more of an act. Viewers expect to see a finished image, while I have no room to make mistakes. When I work in private, I’ll draw something over and over again until I’m happy with it. That said, it’s cool that people take the time to watch you, even if it is a little unnerving.
I first met you at Central St Martins where you were studying advertising and graphic design. Does your advertising background help when you’re doing a promotional project like this?
My advertising background helps me with everything I do. It was a really intense course, where we had the majority of our ideas rejected. I learnt that ideas are the most important thing in the creative process. It taught me that you can’t just rely on style – it has to have some substance. But that train of thought has also troubled me. I really admire the work of people like Doze and Futura, but there is no obvious message in their work to me, even though it is visually rich and engaging. That makes me think that I’m being too influenced by advertising, but then that’s my background and my natural path to take.
I know you’re a skater, and I can see references to classic vintage skate graphics in the Dunk project and some of your other work. For me, I think it was skating that got me interested in design & clothing in the first place – do you think your skating background informs the way you create graphics?
Yeah definitely. Skating will always play a part in my work at some level. I was never that great on a board, and now I find I have less time to do it. Maybe that’s why I concentrated on the graphic side more, but I have many influences that boil down in my head and then spill out on the page. American culture is the main influence, with many offshoots that formed later on.
Does living in London have an effect on your work in graphics & streetwear? With the "Plates of Meat" custom AF1s you used a uniquely English concept even though both burgers & sneakers are primarily associated with the USA…
I really enjoy living in London now, but as a kid I always wanted to live in the States. They had everything I wanted. As much as I love it though, I can’t rely solely on America for influences, as we’ve all seen them before. I try to mix them with my English roots and my realization that America isn’t this amazing haven I had perceived as a kid. I try to stay true to my surroundings and make work that I can identify with, and that possibly shows a little of my identity. For instance some of my friends reckon I speak with a cockney accent, and the "Plates of Meat" customs were based around the cockney rhyming slang for "feet". Also it’s almost an anti-custom against airbrushed graffiti, and poking fun at the whole custom culture.
Apart from Nike, you’ve also worked with a range of well-known brands within streetwear. How have things changed for you now that you’ve made the move into working freelance?
Working freelance is great. It gives me room to choose who to work for, and the variety of projects keeps it fresh.
You’re well known for the designs you’ve done for Stussy. Now that you’re no longer working for them full-time, have you got any plans for future collaborations?
I’m actually working on some stuff right now for Stussy. It was just a natural progression for me to go freelance and be able to manage my own workload, but I really like working with those guys.
What’s next for you after the Nike exhibition, apart from going snowboarding tomorrow (you lucky bastard)?
I’ve got a show coming up this summer that I’m keeping myself busy with, and in between I’m working on a couple of projects right now that I’m not allowed to talk about. Sorry!
Cheers Mark, we’ll catch up with you again when you launch your exhibition this summer.
You can see more of Mark’s work at www.graphiknonsense.com. His exhibition at Nike Town London is running until 4th March so go and have a look if you’re in the city…