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White Gray Black

John Walker (British, born 1939)

About this artist

Source: Oxford University Press

English painter and printmaker. He studied at Birmingham College of Art from 1955 to 1960 and first came to public attention at the John Moores exhibition in Liverpool in 1965, where he was awarded third prize. Typical of his large-scale paintings of that period is Study (acrylic and canvas collage on canvas, 2.2×3.0 m, 1965; London, Tate), in which folded and dramatically lit shapes are presented against a sprayed fencelike background. He continued looking to the American models of Abstract Expressionism and Post-painterly Abstraction in panoramic canvases such as Barrier 3 (acrylic on canvas, 1.8×2.7 m, 1969; British Council), although he combined the insistent flatness of these sources with shapes rendered in the illusion of three dimensions.

In Walker’s next series, such as Juggernaut II (acrylic and French chalk on canvas, 3.0×2.4 m, 1973–4; Liverpool, Walker A.G.), he reinterpreted Cubist collage on a massive scale, layering shapes of cut-out canvas painted to look like the rusting metal of the industrial vehicles alluded to in the title. As early as his Numinous series (1977–8) of variations on a balcony motif borrowed from Edouard Manet, Francisco de Goya and Henri Matisse, Walker increasingly referred to earlier painted images. Red Strand Infanta II (oil on canvas, 1981; British Council) was one of a group of canvases that made direct allusion to Velázquez and that introduced into his work illusions of deep space; from this point on, he favoured oil painting rather than acrylic.

Following a residency in Australia from 1979 to 1980, Walker was appointed Dean of Melbourne’s Victoria College of the Arts in 1982. In works such as Oceania My Dilemma III (triptych, 1984; Los Angeles, CA, Broida Trust) he began to incorporate elements from Oceanic art such as carved masks, skull racks, painted barks and wall paintings in the bush, while continuing to work in series in an essentially modernist idiom that had much in common with international developments in Neo-Expressionist and ‘New Image’ painting. The changes in his painting are likewise reflected in his production as a printmaker, from the larger-scale lithographs such as the Blackboard Print series (1.0×0.7 m, 1973; British Council) to his later preference for the gestural surfaces and physicality of etching, for example Oceania II (0.4×0.4 m, 1984; see 1985 exh. cat., p. 43).

Adrian Lewis
From Grove Art Online

© 2009 Oxford University Press

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