Anne-Marije Rook
Artists Ryan Henry Ward stands beside his mural outside Short Stop Coffee. That's one of 116 murals he's painted in Seattle.

Neighborhood Gems: Ryan Henry Ward

Artist Ryan Henry Ward, better known as Henry, has only been in Seattle for three years and already he has adorned the city with 116 murals. The first 26 of which he did for free.

His most recent murals were painted last month on the Axis Automotive building on Russell Avenue N.W. in Ballard and on the Better Window Cleaning business in Fremont.

Born in Montana and raised in Enumclaw, Henry wanted to be a cartoonist growing up.

"I spend years trying to find a unique style of cartooning," he said. His style of cartooning is now evident in the various characters he paints on walls -- Sasquatch, guitar-playing unicorns, walruses on tiny bicycles, etc.

Henry attended Fairhaven College at Western Washington University where graduated with a degree in children's literature. He worked as a social worker for a while but never stopped painting.

"I have been painting since I was 16 and it was my hobby until I was 31," he said. At 31 he decided to pack his bags and pursue his passion for art.

"As soon as my art got into a gallery, I moved here," he said.

That was February of 2008 when he was invited to show his art in the now closed Orange Splot Gallery in Fremont. Neighboring the gallery was a bar called the Triangle Lounge where Henry painted his first Seattle mural. The owner liked Henry's work and asked if he could cover up the graffiti on the side of his building.

"That was my first muralist job in Seattle and it's been fun ever since," Henry said.

The Triangle Lounge has since closed and the new owners painted over Henry's mural. His oldest remaining mural can be seen on NW 45th Street, which is a pitbull and unicorn playing guitar.

Through word of mouth, interest in Henry's murals grew quickly and soon his murals were popping up on businesses, garage doors, and even on some walls at Lowell Elementary School. All murals have one common goal: to entice imagination.

"There's more to our world than grey walls and beat up buildings," Henry said. "Bright colors is what this particular environment needs. The only way things can change is through imagination. My paintings allow people to get back into imagination."

"I think the colors he uses is refreshing," agreed Nick Zouroudis, owner of the Fremont pet store Petapoluza in which Henry painted various murals.

"I'm from Fort Lauderdale, Florida and I miss the color."

Zouroudis said he first became cognizant of Henry's art a few years ago when he noticed Henry's murals popping up.

"He's really good with empty spaces. His murals are aesthetically balanced" Zouroudis said. "He's art may not look that thoughtful but he's very thoughtful."

Henry calls his style "pop-surrealism with strong characters" and said all characters have meaning to him.

"They are different ways I feel about myself," Henry said. "They are different characters I identify with at different times. The unicorn for example is a pure magical being I feel like from time to time when I feel pure love."

At the moment, he said the sasquatch is an important character to him.

"I live hidden from the world a little bit and I care about nature. Sasquatch is kind of the protector of nature," he said.

While most proprietors give Henry complete artistic freedom, Henry said he enjoys working with customer's input.

Alex Share, owner of Axis Automotive, recently became the proud owner of a large Henry mural on his business. He said he contracted Henry to living up his storefront because he's a fan of Henry art, in particular the walruses riding tiny bicycles.

"I'm so happy with it," Share said. "It makes me smile every time I pull up and see the walrus. I'm certainly not an art snob, just happy with what he does for the neighborhood. He's absolutely an asset to the community."

At this point, Henry said he feel confident that he has found that unique style of cartooning he searched for as a teenager, jokingly calling it "whimsical fun stuff".

"I value simplicity and pay attention to composition and balance," he said. "If simplicity is done right it can be extremely powerful. I'm conveying emotion and meaning in the simplest form I can."

Henry said he's always open for new assignments and revealed that he's looking to do a few free murals this year as he's experimenting with black and white murals.

"I just like to show people what else there is," he said.

Henry also wants to help other muralists in Seattle get started.

"I don't want to monopolize the murals," Henry said. "I've been trailblazing what's possible for a muralist but 99 percent of the space is still available," he said.

Henry's canvassing art can be seen and purchased at Short Stop Coffee in Frelard at 336 NW 40th Street.
For more information, visit his website at: www.ryanhenryward.com.

Neighborhood Gems is a feature series highlighting the unsung heroes in the community. Know anyone who should be featured? Let us know! Email anner@robinsonnews.com

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