Sela Ward on Balancing 'Independence Day' Acting With Painting Career (Q&A)

Sela Ward- Getty-H 2016
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Days ahead of a reception celebrating her work as a painter, the artist better known as an actress talks to THR about her process and how it felt to reunite with Roland Emmerich.

Sela Ward is best known for her screen work. And rightfully so — she's got a legion of awards from Emmys to a Golden Globe to back up her much-loved work on such shows as Once and Again and Sisters. But when she's not acting, the 59-year-old loves to be in the studio putting a paint brush to paper (or canvas), indulging another passion. And for the first time ever, Ward's art will be featured in a solo reception, scheduled for April 1 at Melissa Morgan Fine Art in Palm Desert. Ward talked to The Hollywood Reporter about swimming in the other creative river, how she approaches her art and that little movie she made that comes out later this summer. 

How did the Palm Desert show come about?

I had done a huge piece for a friend who has a place in Palm Desert. Two gallery owners had come to some parties there, and one said, "I would love to sell your work, but I can’t do a show for you because you’re not a name artist." Another said they would do a reception, so I went with them. I’ve always been blessed to have these parallel lives that includes the visual arts and the performing arts. The visual arts — my major in college — are so much a part of the core of who I am and my inner life. But it’s such a gift to have both of those rivers to swim in and they both feed off each other.

How did you pick the works to exhibit?

I had given them some of the works, but I really wanted to take another stab at it and do new pieces. I did a large piece and one set of nine 20x20s that hang as a group. I've been obsessed with Chinese black opaque ink and this black line. I don't know why; it's so strong to me and the strokes are serpentine and snake-like. The black line is in constant motion and represents the quest for inner stillness against the motion in life. I put the paper on the wall and go at it with my whole body. 

You've been painting for years. How do you describe your style?

At the moment, I would say it's expressive gestural art. That’s what I’m trying to do while finding ways to express an inner world juxtaposed with the outer. The yin and the yang of that. That's why I'm excited to do this show because it motivates me to get back in the studio with a goal and a deadline to express myself in this way. I had only done one other show with one piece with a group of other artists at a gallery on La Cienega. Bernie Taupin had his work at that show, as well as Alexander Yulish. I met all of these incredible artists and that really opened up this world to me, and I thought that I had to get back to this core passion. It's been a part of my whole life and is never far away for me. I had a plan to go back and get my masters in fine art at NYU and then I got the series Graves with Nick Nolte. I keep getting derailed but to have that blessing is a gift.

Speaking of work, you reunited with director Roland Emmerich again, this time on Independence Day: Resurgence. What was that experience like?

I love him as a director. He's so incredibly visual and creative. It's an interesting role because I was in front of a green screen almost the whole time. I filmed on one set that was a conference room in the White House, but the rest of the time I was in some command center and everything was filmed using a green screen. You don't really know what is behind you, but it was really fun. That kind of big-box-office project is a whole different animal and work environment. It's always delicious when there is a big budget and every aspect of filmmaking is elevated.

I've read stories that you and your husband have listed your house here and you plan to move to New York. Is that accurate?

Yeah, it is. I have two children and they have both flown the nest. My son graduates from college and my daughter is going to college in the fall on the East Coast. I want to be closer to her when she's there. I've always seen myself going back to New York at some point after living there in my 20s. But with work, I never could go back there for any length of time, but now I am going to be free. I want to switch it up and and live my unlived life at this point. That side of the country — from New Orleans and my home state of Mississippi to New York — is calling me hard.  

"I started with the black line. With great force, I ran toward the paper and made these marks," Ward says of the above work, which will be on view in Palm Springs. "Like life, I will have an intention but get redirected by something else that is a total surprise. One thing led me to another."
"I really love this one," Ward admits. "The ink was so rich and that translated to the colors and the way the inks saturated in the center. Everything about it made me very happy."