On The Dock with John Ward
As a viewer looking at this painting, there are many aspects to consider. You have the immediate choice to focus on the central objects of the painting, or to consider the painting as a whole. What elements draw your attention first? Perhaps it is the long dock that seems inviting enough to walk down. You look at the painting for a few moments and then read the label to see if there is more information. The table gives you a title: The Dock, the artist: John Ward, the date: 1978 the medium: acrylic on canvas. As the viewer, you can build off this information as you see fit. You can appreciate that, given the title, the focus should be on the dock, or you can begin to interpret the painting on your own. Perhaps you know more about John Ward’s work, that he is known for capturing simple everyday moments in a realistic painting style, or perhaps you have never heard of him before. Either way, one can view, interpret and enjoy Ward’s paintings all the same.
Moving your eyes around the painting you begin to notice more details. Starting from what first drew your attention in the painting, look around, reaching all four corners. John Ward left many clues which can help us understand what the scene is trying to convey.
Looking at the top left corner to the right, you can see that the sky is changing colour and as you move your eyes down you will notice how the colour of the sky is reflected in the water. It is a sunny day, but the sun is not visible in the painting. As you move your eyes towards the two figures on the dock you can see that Ward painted a highlight on their backs, telling us the sun is shining from the right. These figures are both shirtless which provides us with more information as to the heat of the day. You can conclude both figures are presumably male due to the socially acceptable norm for males not to wear shirts on warm days in the summer months. Ward painted the body of one figure larger than other. As the viewer you can conclude that perhaps they are father and son. As you are only given so much information, it is truly up to the viewer to come to their own conclusions.
One central element which Ward left out of the composition, leaving us to our own imagination, is what are the two figures looking at? You can look at the body position of the figures and guess what they may be doing but this it truly up to you as the viewer. Possibly they dropped their keys or are looking at the fish. It is up to you to decide.
The Dock, 1978,
Acrylic on Canvas,
54.0 x83.5 cm.
Gift of Christopher Ondaatje, Toronto, Ontario, 1994. 1994.253