To anyone aware of Seattle’s art scene, colorful murals signed “henry” in lowercase are a familiar sight. These are the work of Ryan Henry Ward, who has painted public spaces, alleyways, and residences throughout Washington since 2007. One of many cities featuring Ward’s art, Bellingham is notable as the place where he lived for 12 years since 1994.
“I went to Whatcom Community College and Fairhaven College, graduated from Fairhaven College with a degree in Writing, Art, and Storytelling for Children,” says Ward. “And I think that experience had a huge impact on my art career.”
After college, Ward held his first art shows at The Bagelry and Old Town Café and practiced art therapy with his social work clients. Decades of creativity culminated in Ward beginning his formal art career in Seattle.
“I’ve been making art my whole life, since I was a kid,” Ward says. “I think I started my first cartoon strip when I was in third or fourth grade, and then had one all the way through high school.”
Ward’s stylish signature complements a signature style: cartoon wildlife, people, and mythical creatures in whimsical scenarios.
“My biggest influences would probably be children’s book illustrators like Dr. Seuss, Quentin Blake…and then I’m also really into surrealists,” Ward says, noting that in addition to sci-fi art, “I draw a lot of influence from the classics, like Picasso and Salvador Dali and Diego Rivera and people like that.”
Canvassing Bellingham buildings reveals how Ward, like local artists, has made a canvas of Bellingham.
Henry in Bellingham
Ward’s largest mural is in Bellingham, behind Dewey Griffin Subaru on Iowa Street. It spans 8,000 square feet and features animals driving Subarus and enjoying Bellingham’s outdoor recreation.
The tunnel mural at Larrabee State Park is one of Ward’s favorites. It memorializes his older brother, who passed away at age 25 when Ward was 24 and they lived together on I Street.
“We ended up putting his ashes in the water at Larrabee State Park, our family did,” Ward says. “And years later, Larrabee State Park hit me up and wanted a mural, and so I kind of painted the mural as a memorial to him. There’s a picture of him playing his guitar based on a photograph that I took of him playing his guitar at Larrabee State Park. That’s probably my most meaningful mural.”
Ward’s murals also adorn Flatstick Pub on State Street. He’s painted murals featuring his popular Sasquatch at their locations throughout Washington, among the indoor mini-golf and outside.
Ward formerly had a mural in Bird Alley, behind the historic Hohl and Clark Feed and Seed storefronts that burned in 2019. His bird, labeled “You Can’t Unsee Me,” joined 80 birds by local muralist Shawn Cass (“Ruckas”). Locals can still see (and not unsee) Ward’s character in the Subaru mural and stickers, which he considers important to Bellingham’s artistic landscape.
“There’s stickers on the backs of stop signs that are an important voice, there’s graffiti in the alleyways that are an important voice, and there’s murals that are strung throughout,” Ward says.
Henry Beyond Museums
“The majority of my work’s in Seattle,” says Ward. “I’m kind of all over. I’ve done over 350 murals up and down the coast, from Spokane to Portland to Bellingham.”
Ballard, Fremont, and Wallingford are home to most of Ward’s murals; he says he’ss added approximately 30 to Seattle every year.
Ward has performed live painting at several electronic music festivals such as Sasquatch! Music Festival and Cascadia Northwest Arts and Music Festival. He frequents night markets in various cities, including Bellingham.
Ward appreciates and hopes to foster the joy observers have found in his art.
“While I’m making art, I kind of go into the zone or a trance, and get lost in my imagination and mind and feel like the pressures of the world don’t exist,” Ward says. He sees bringing art from his imagination into the world, to be interacted with by others, as a primitive form of communication. “Here’s my emotions and imagination from a really sensitive part of my soul—and someone else can look at it and go, ‘Oh, this is impacting a sensitive part of my soul that words can’t really reach.’”
Appreciating Public Art
“I feel like it’s been really well-received,” Ward says of his Bellingham art. “There’s so much of my style and character that really matured here in Bellingham.”
Ward encourages people to explore the art outside their doors. He hopes to be “graced with that ability” to keep painting as the world changes but his creative drive does not.
“I just kind of, like, dance with the universe a little bit, let it come to me, and keep producing the best kind of work I can produce,” Ward says. “But my main plan is to keep painting.”