Born in St Ives in 1945, Eric Ward joined the fleets of fishermen striking out from west Cornwall’s coast fresh out of school. He became St Ives’ harbour master in 1985 and coxswain of the lifeboat in 1989, retiring in 2000 after 34 years at sea.
It was during long periods offshore that Eric returned to drawing. “It had been 20 years. Living on a boat with four blokes, there’s not much else to do.”
Back in St Ives in 1985, a friend urged Eric to join a life class at St Ives School of Painting. He admits being apprehensive: “I thought everyone would be brilliant and I’d be awful. But the tutors were fantastic; the ambience in the room is great because everyone’s in the same boat!” Puns aside, Eric’s intimate knowledge of St Ives soon saw him producing lively vignettes, capturing its dual heritage of art and marine industry.
By 1989 he had a solo show in a London gallery. He still lives and paints in St Ives; a regular at St Ives School of Painting’s life drawing classes, he has even gone on to teach there. “I don’t see it as a re-invention,” he says, “more as a progression.” Eric’s work, often featuring his beloved harbour and the school’s unmistakable studios, has appeared in shows as far afield as Japan and, more recently, alongside Whistler and Sickert at the Falmouth Art Gallery. You can currently find his paintings at the New Gallery, Portscatho, and they are soon to be shown at the Belgrave, St Ives.
Eric’s story bears testimony to significant neurological evidence that imagination and creativity continue to flourish as we get older, and that spending an hour or two making art can have a dramatic effect on cognition at any age. In short: it’s never too late to become an artist. Whether you’re picking up after a long break, like Eric, or trying something completely new, art is the ultimate way to relax and recharge.
“Just do it,” says Eric, “Just turn up, go in and have a good time.” Why not drop into one of St Ives School of Painting’s workshops? A full list can be found at schoolofpainting.co.uk/workshops and with more than 80 to choose from, they’re showing you that art really is for everyone.