The New English Art Club Annual Exhibition was at Mall Galleries in June 2015. We spoke to Toby Ward NEAC about his commission pieces for Westminster Abbey.

Toby Ward NEAC has a fascination for human activity and the way we interact with the world around us, particularly through the collaborative process of commissions. He combines his experiences with fragments of memory and imagination to document history, the changing architecture of London and individual lives in a way of piecing together the past. 

Toby Ward, The Village Event

Interaction is central to Toby’s commissions, ‘There are no limits. It’s tremendous fun and I find commissions interesting and a challenge’. Toby has worked with a range of people, including individuals, groups of people and whole organisations. But what remains a constant is the relationships he builds with the people around him, ‘I always interact with the people I am working with. I don’t think of myself as purely a cold outsider. That’s part of the fun - enjoying other people’s company and becoming an insider’. There is always an active element in what Toby does and he enjoys capturing the interactions of different people, ‘You get an idea of the subject as a living and moving figure that is not fixed’.

Toby Ward, Lincoln Cathedral

Toby is currently six months into his three-year commission at Westminster Abbey. For the first time since 1740, the fabric of Westminster Abbey is being altered to create a state of the art museum. Toby is documenting the development of refurbishment, observing closely the entire journey alongside the builders, archaeologists and architectures that are working on the project. He has observed over 4000 bin bags of dust being removed from the attic of Westminster Abbey, and has sifted through fragments of priceless artefacts alongside archaeologists, ‘Other people’s rubbish is our history. It’s so interesting piecing it all together’. Toby has also documented a year in the life of Lincoln Cathedral in 2013, where as well as representing changes to the building, he maintains his fascination with the individual by ensuring that there is a portrait element to his work. He includes precise details of workers producing fresh stonework to depict the constant ongoing process of repair and development that occurred during his residency, whilst also ensuring that individuals remain recognisable in his work.

Toby Ward, Lincoln Cathedral

Toby’s past commissions have also included very personal, one-on-one partnerships. One of the most moving projects he has worked on was with an 86 year old man who had recently had a stroke. He wished to work with Toby to illustrate his life in retrospect. Toby would meet the man for two hours per week, and listen to stories about his life, which Toby would then transform into pictures. Together they produced a book of drawings together. Toby affirms that, ‘It was an amazing project to work with one man to realise what his life looked like. It was a very moving process to be a part of’. 

Toby Ward, Lincoln Cathedral

The process of commissioning is never fixed. The dialogue between the client and the artist is something that continually develops, and he finds working with someone who has the vision and enthusiasm for the piece of art to exist very rewarding. Whether he is documenting the three year refurbishment of a Church or painting the entire life of an individual, collaboration remains central, as a way of piecing together the past and documenting the passage of time.

By Sophia Siddiqui


An artwork commission is a personalised experience that is different for everyone, at Mall Galleries we employ Commission Consultants to guide you through the process of commissioning an artwork from choosing an artist to choosing an artwork that is suitable for your home or business.

If you would like to find out more information regarding commissioning an artwork or book a private consultation, click here.