A clash of cartoons and racism brings Robyn Ward’s work to gritty life

Cosy childhood nostalgia uncomfortably meets with racism and politics in his new series

At first glance, his visuals bring to life the childhood nostalgia and innocence of an era long gone; Sylvester the Cat, Tweety Bird and Bugs Bunny up to their usual antics during a time of hope and growth for the Western world.

But stepping closer and looking deeper, Irish painter Robyn Ward’s latest exhibition jumps with a darker message, uneasily juxtaposing with the veneer of cosy youth. Subverted by their actions, nodding to time of drug culture, racism, politics, and sex, the protagonists want us to see something deeper.

The title for Ward’s latest works, Once Upon A Time, has a dual meaning, he says. The viewer is first drawn in by the original context in which we experienced these animated characters, but they’re also surrounded by the signs and messages of a period of extreme hatred, bigotry, and racism. “No blacks, no dogs, no Irish,” reads the picket sign held by Bugs Bunny in one such piece.

For Ward, a self-taught Irish painter who grew up on the streets of Belfast immersed in graffiti work, Once Upon A Time is a celebration of mixed media on canvas using oils, acrylics, spray paint and inks – literally giving fraught contrast to the characters in his work and the messages behind them.

Once Upon a Time was exhibited in London’s HOFA Gallery from May 10 to May 13. Visit robynwardart.com for information on the artist and his work.

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Images: Robyn Ward