Joshua Ward's been busy painting for the past eight years in his residence at the Arizona State Hospital -- a state-funded facility, which provides long-term care and recovery for the state's severely mentally ill population.
You can see a small collection of his works at "Art From the Inside" at Unsung Gallery, the art gallery within the Universal Furnishings and Offerings (UFO) vintage furniture and housewares retail store.
UFO's owner, Leonardo Ramirez, has a knack for ferreting outsider art in this town. He first blipped on the New Times radar when he curated the "Peace of Light" show last year (click here to read more about it).
Ward is Ramirez's latest find and, Ramirez tells us, his personal hero.
Ward is a painter. He now works with acrylic on canvas but says he used to paint on hospital bedsheets. Early on in his stay at ASH, when he was in a high security unit, he used drywall pieces as chalk.
Ward is on work release from the hospital but also works at ASH as a landscaper. He's close to nature all day and uses this relationship in his art. He recently designed and etched a series of tiles and arranged on a bench on the hospital grounds.
A similar tile is on display at Unsung. The square piece is filled with winding stylized animals that weave and overlap. Completely symmetrical, it's akin to celtic designs.
The most intriguing work is a large, colorful painting. A beautiful turquoise bird rises through swirls and smudges of brilliant hues. Take a closer look and more animals emerge: a pair of fantastic crocodiles flank either side of the work; two rearing ponies face one another; a butterfly takes shape in the center.
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Ward is diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, an illness that causes schizophrenic symptoms and mood disorders. He was involved in a life-threatening incident he refers to as "my shooting" (during our interview, his social workers stopped him from getting into detail). That was nine years ago. The incident landed him in ASH. Since then, he's worked tirelessly with staff, psychiatrists, and social workers to treat his mental illness. He's now gone ten years without a physical altercation.
The show only features a handful of Ward's works but each piece is so ornate and detailed, it feels like a bigger show. Inspired by animals, nature and all things of this world, Ward sees his art as a spiritual endeavor. And as an integral part of his recovery.
"Artistry, creativity, imagination . . . those things are all critical when trying to heal a mind that is imbalanced," Ward says. "This is something that I love. It comes from my soul. It comes from the inside."
"Art From the Inside" hangs through September 3 at Unsung Gallery in UFO (Universal Furnishings and Offerings), 3602 North 16th Street (on the west side of 16th St., just north of Osborn), 602-862-8735.