California by Michael Ward

“Beauty is beauty just because it is a mystery, and when ordinary life is known as a profound mystery then we are somewhere near to wisdom,” said the British philosopher Alan Watts (1915-1973). It is this “mystery of the ordinary” that Michael Ward, a designer and self-taught painter from Costa Mesa, California, is most interested in depicting. Inspired by Edward Hopper, Charles Sheeler, Richard Estes and Vermeer, Michael says that he aims to capture “the workaday world we live in” but which we do not see “until we are forced to focus upon it.” What he is really after is bearing witness. He wishes to make people stop what they are doing and pay attention…to something they may have never seen before, but that which makes them feel “I know this.”

Michael Ward

Although he is open to documenting different parts of America and even other countries, Michael’s most engaging paintings come from his native California. We see in these photorealistic works palm trees and sunshine, streets and markets and automobiles and advertisements – all the real diversity and vibrancy and energy of the Golden State. In addition to highlighting the dizzying mystery of the ordinary, Michael’s works easily exude nostalgia. “I used to look down on nostalgia as a false emotion, a longing for a mis-remembered or imagined past,” tells the painter. “But as I see the resonances my images evoke in people, I’ve come to have more respect for nostalgia. It’s not just us fooling ourselves into believing the past is better than it actually was. It’s paying tribute to our lived experience, good and bad. We went through it, we remember some of it, and it is still with us, and will be until we die. As Faulkner said, ‘The past is never dead. It’s not even past.'”

Michael is currently working on a series of house paintings. He comments, “These simple, ordinary, unnoticed places have hidden interior lives, though they do not reveal them to us. The houses are from a variety of locations in the United States and Mexico. They are the place you grew up in, a place of nurture, experience, trial, memory and forgetting. They are all a common size, to symbolise our shared experience of being human.”

Learn more on Michael Ward’s website ( and Saatchi Art profile ( You can find him on Tumblr ( and check out a book – “The Mystery of the Ordinary” – that he has published on Blurb.

All images used with permission.


Signs Signs – Long Beach, CA


Lakewood – Corvair station wagon in Palm Springs, CA


Million Article Thompson – Los Angeles, CA


Please – Huntington Beach, CA


Mi Salon – Santa Ana, CA


Almost Independence Day – Santa Ana, CA


George’s One 17 – Long Beach, CA


F250 XLT – Pickup truck in Bishop, CA


Beautify your City – Broadway and Cherry, Long Beach, CA


US – Sign on Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, CA


Rollin’ Down Pico – Pico at Western, Los Angeles, CA


Cordial Liquor – Just off Valley Blvd., south of Whittier, CA


Landscape with Cyclone – Lomita, CA


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