4 May – 9 June 2019 PREVIEW: Friday 3 May ARTISTS TALK: Saturday 4 May, 2pm
For more than a decade from the 1970s British artist John Walker was one of the most influential and imitated painters working in the UK; he exhibited alongside Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, represented his country at the 1972 Biennale, had extensive survey shows at both the Tate and Hayward galleries and was short-listed for the first Turner Prize in 1984.
John will join us on Saturday 4 May where he will be in conversation with Jonathan Watkins, director of Ikon Gallery since 1999. Jonathan has an impressive background working in contemporary art, including as curator of London’s Serpentine Gallery and numerous Biennales around the world.
John Walker continues to be regarded as a very significant painter in America, where he now lives and he has works in the Guggenheim and Museum of Modern Art in New York, however he has been little known in the UK – until now.
Now, in his eightieth year, he is being celebrated in two exhibitions in the UK, the first at Messums Wiltshire and the second, in November 2019, at the IKON Gallery in Birmingham.
‘I’ve always been interested in what you may call talking with the brush - that’s something inherent in great painting’ he says. ‘The way the artist kind of talks himself through a space or a distinctive form. It was there in the paintings I admired, that distinctive touch which you see in a Chardin for example and which makes you gasp when you see the beauty of it.’
Born in Birmingham in in 1939, Walker studied at the Moseley School of Art and later, the Birmingham School of Art. In the late 1960’s he taught painting at the Royal College of Art and in 1969, won the Harkness Fellowship, which took him to New York, where he became a visiting artist at Columbia University and thereafter became Professor of Fine Art at Yale.
Walker then went to live in Australia, where he became Dean of the Victoria College of the arts in Melbourne. Now Professor of Painting at Boston University in America he lives and works in Maine.
The exhibition at Messums Wiltshire – the first Walker has had in the UK for over a decade – features 27 works ranging from some small paintings inspired by the land and seascape of Maine to three large canvases inspired by not only the sea but by abstract geometry formed by ships and waves.
Starting in 2008, Walker made a series of small paintings on the back of some Bingo cards that he found in his studio when he first moved into it, that he renamed Beano cards, as Bingo was banned in the US at the time. These mini masterpieces highlight his astonishing skill at adapting the materials he has to hand to create a new aesthetic, intensifying the impasto bravura of his larger works. Also on show are four charcoal drawings – inspired by the landscape around him but also moving towards the boulder-like shapes of abstraction.
Highly regarded for his painterly ability, Walker has influenced generations of artists around the world, from America to Australia and now increasingly in China, too, where his works hang in the Inside Out Museum in Beijing. Walker’s works often seem to allude to timeless, ineffable, grand themes – often operatic in scale. ‘Most artists have some desire to do something heroic I think’ he says. He has been exceptionally brave by not defining himself by his country of origin at a time when most artists are categorised by their nationality, but now in an age of globalisation, seems ahead of his time.
Messum’s Wiltshire is a pioneering multi-purpose gallery and arts centre celebrating the creative endeavour.