Ossian Ward (Art Critic)

Ossian Ward is Content Director at Lisson Gallery (London/New York/Shanghai) and a writer on contemporary art. As well as leading the gallery’s communications and publishing teams he was co-curator of the major off-site exhibition, ‘Everything at Once’ and editor of the gallery’s 50th anniversary book, ‘ARTIST | WORK | LISSON’ (both 2017). Until 2013, he was the chief art critic and Visual Arts Editor at Time Out London for over six years and has contributed to magazines such as Art in America, Art + Auction, World of Interiors, Esquire, The News Statesman and Wallpaper, as well as newspapers including the Evening Standard, The Guardian, the Observer, The Times and The Independent on Sunday. Formerly editor of ArtReview and the V&A Magazine, he has also worked at The Art Newspaper and edited a biennial publication, The Artists’ Yearbook, for Thames & Hudson from 2005-2010. His book, titled Ways of Looking: How to Experience Contemporary Art was published by Laurence King in 2014. A sequel, Look Again: How to Experience the Old Masters will be published by Thames & Hudson in 2019.

February 3, 2020

Chapter 2: The frame – the window as optical device or trompe l’oeil from Mantegna to Ryan Gander

Whether facing outwards to the world or inwards to the self, an artist is often restrained by the framing device of the window—unable to break free from a rectilinear box or blank surface that demands to be filled, but which can never contain the sheer volume of possibilities and countless multitudes of our cosmos. Indeed, as an aperture, the window, canvas or blank sheet of paper is but a tiny fraction of the whole, representing only a glimpse of our visible reality. While this narrow view might contend that a window or a work of art is a necessarily compromised and merely partial inlet or outlet, it is equally true that much of our life is now increasingly being mediated by these rectilinear boundaries – whether through a television screen, a page, a photograph or a handheld phone or tablet. Rather than permitting only a restricted field of vision, these windows could be seen as magical portals to other universes or even just uncanny and lifelike portrayals of experience.

Accuracy was one of the first and foremost forms of pictorial magic performed by artists, with two early Greek painters, Zeuxis and Parrhasius competing to see whose picture could better fool the eye in an account recorded by Pliny the Elder. Zeuxis painted a bunch of grapes so compelling that birds came down to feast on them. Parrhasius congratulated his opponent and beckoned him to see his work behind a curtain, only for Zeuxis to find that the curtain was the painting.

April 26, 2019

Chapter 1: The studio – exploring the mind of the artist from Caspar David Friedrich to Spencer Finch

An artist contemplates a blank canvas or a white piece of paper in the studio or at a table, perhaps waiting for a memory or some inspiration to stimulate that first mark. What follows is an insight into either their viewpoint of the world or the inner workings of the artistʼs mind at that moment. Either way or whatever the impetus behind that initial gesture, the pristine surface and the bounds of the blank support are there to be broken through, in order to begin creating a window to another reality.

The rectilinear frame of a painting mimics that of a window, waiting to be filled in or opened up. The two-dimensional panel can be seen as an aperture to escape from or to burrow into and hide, while the lack of transparent panes of glass means both artist and viewer are required to insert or intuit their own vision of what lies on or behind the picture plane.