contributing editor: mr. ward

Mr. Ward
Model, muse, photographer, artist, icon, and, yes, one-time Madonna boy toy Tony Ward goes highbrow.
by Alison Baenen
photographs by Hugh Lippe

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Mr. Ward
Model, muse, photographer, artist, icon, and, yes, one-time Madonna boy toy Tony Ward goes highbrow.
By Alison Baenen

If you don’t know who Tony Ward is, chances are you haven’t seen enough gay porn. Or, to be fair to girl-on-guy traditionalists, if the mention of MTV brings to mind Miley Cyrus and “The Hills,” you might be too young to recognize the hustler-turned-fashion icon. If that’s the case, don’t worry. Tony Ward’s not going anywhere.

But first, for the oughties child, a Tony Ward refresher course. If a model’s success can be measured by photographers worked with and campaigns booked, Ward is an undeniable supermodel. In the eighties and early nineties Ward posed for Herb Ritts in beside-the-point Calvin Klein briefs, looking less like an underwear model and more like a marble-sculpted Greek god. Steven Meisel shot Ward for Dolce & Gabbana, Karl Lagerfeld paired him with Angela Lindvall for Chanel, and Steven Klein likes to snap him for L’Uomo Vogue. For some, Ward’s career high could be his roles opposite Madonna in music videos for “Cherish,” “Justify My Love,” and “Erotica,” but more on that later.

The road to muse wasn’t always paved with choice gigs and famous lensmen. As Ward will be the first to tell you, he had to hustle a little along the way. “I was so naïve. To me, I was part of a creative process creating artwork,” Ward says of his early modeling days, where he traded nude photos (and received the occasional blowjob) for shots for his fashion book. Far from regretting the experience, Ward (who’s had his fair share of spreads in gay adult magazine, Colt) seems to have benefitted from it. Those early days of sexual ambiguity resulted in a body – and a body of work – that is an unambiguous celebration of sexuality in all its forms. “I don’t think I ever was exploited,” Ward says. “I don’t feel like a victim at all.” And for the record, Ward is married with three kids, but he prefers not to define his sexuality; if you ask about his orientation, then you’ve kind of missed the point.

While modeling may be more of a hobby than a career now, Ward’s biceps still appear to be made of stone. With a body like this, which Ward crafted in high school to make up for his face – “the ugliest thing in the world,” in his teenage estimation – it would be easy to find each part of it sexy. “I just don’t think of a hard dick or a vagina as anything different than a toe,” Ward shrugs. Which brings us to his art. Five years sober and recently 46, Ward could easily step back from the scene, put down his barbells, and revel in his youthful notoriety. Not so much. After mounting an exhibition of his latest artworks – a collaborative paint party with friend and fellow model-slash-actor Daniel Rivas – at Eva New York on the Bowery, Ward was off to Milan, “to do something with Dolce & Gabanna,” and he and Rivas are co-producing a feature film. Collaboration is key for him, an artistic preference he attributes to being educated by some of fashion’s great photographers. The collaborative process is a two-way street, of course, and Ward, though naïve, never cops to having been a blank canvas. “I could never just be a model,” he says. “I couldn’t just stand there and be a thing.” Mention that he was lucky to work with Herb Ritts so early on in his career, and Ward will shoot back, “He was lucky to work with me.”

Ward’s photographs and paintings are rife with sex and violence – “Two great things,” he agrees – and he brings the same kind of meticulous attention to his canvasses as he did to his physique as a young bodybuilder. “I’ll spend hours agonizing over a detail,” he says of the painting process. “I have to find some meaning.” Artists Ritts, Weber, Meisel, et al would surely agree, which brings us to Ward’s other most famous collaboration: his short-lived but celluloid-captured fling with Madonna. Mention the Material Girl and Ward noticeably softens. “I think she’s a rad human,” he says. “‘Madonna’ is a creation…but there’s a real human there. I was privy to it and got to experience the human, and she was awesome.” The two don’t keep in touch, but Ward, unsurprisingly, has no relationship regrets. “I was in love with her, and if it wasn’t mutual, I wouldn’t have been there. So it was. It was there.”

As for Ward’s wife and kids, he’s got no secrets. “They’ll see it someday,” he says of whether or not he’ll show his kids his catalogue of gay porn. “I don’t give a shit. The thing is you said porn. I think of it as art. I think a young man with a hard-on standing on top of a rock is beautiful…I love the body in it’s perfect, ecstatic state. I don’t think we should ever be afraid, or shy, or censor that. My kids have seen my art.” Again, if you have to ask, you’ve probably missed the point. -ALISON BAENEN

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