Editor's note: The Wiegand Gallery at Notre Dame de Namur University provided source material to Resource Library Magazine for the following article and permission to reprint the essay from the exhibition's catalogue. If you have questions or comments regarding the source material or essay, or if you wish to purchase the illustrated catalogue, please contact the Wiegand Gallery directly through either this phone number or web address:



 

John Walker: Oceans, Tidepools and Plein Air Paintings

 

An exhibition of paintings by the English-born painter John Walker will be shown at the Wiegand Gallery from March 12 through April 20, 2002. The opening reception is Sunday, March 17th from 2 to 4 p.m.

John Walker was born in Birmingham, England and currently lives and works in Boston, Massachusetts. He is the head of the graduate painting program at Boston University and has taught at several distinguished art programs including Yale University, the Royal College in London, and the Victoria College of Arts in Melbourne.

Highly acclaimed internationally, Walker has been recognized as one of the most interesting and accomplished painters of his generation. His work is in the collections of such prestigious museums as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Tate Gallery, London, the British Museum, London, and the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. He was also awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1980.

This exhibit is the first West Coast showing of John Walker's work since 1988 at the John Berggruen Gallery in San Francisco. Nineteen of Walker's paintings will be on display. The paintings represent Mr. Walker's interpretation of Maine's coastal tide pools, but move beyond the picturesque to suggest an anxiety or perhaps a fear of those forces we can not control. Rachelle Agundes, Wiegand Gallery Coordinator says of the exhibit: "In these paintings, the overall landscape is generally legible, but their individual elements intermittently conform to an underlying structure that verges on being non-representational. There is a dreamlike quality to the imagery and they seem both vividly tangible and quite ethereal at the same time." (left: October 01 (NO. 11), 2001, 24 x 18 inches, oil on canvas)

Carl Belz, director emeritus of Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University in Massachusetts and senior editor of Arts New England, states in the catalog accompanying this show, "...the landscapes stem from direct observation, nature imposing itself on the painter's eye and hand while also conditioning his emotional response. Walker's always been a studio painter, and the landscapes continue to be largely developed in the studio while relying on memory, but the confrontation with nature is nonetheless central to their impact...The pictures have to go outside to match the real world. But what kind of reality are they intended to match? Down East on the coast of Maine where Walker works, nature provides a generous share of scenic vistas, but they are nowhere in these paintings; instead, nature here looms as a vast, imposing, constantly changing and challenging energy, untamed by the human presence, in some ways even hostile to it -- this is not a leisurely, tourist's world."

In an article in the February 12, 2001 edition of the New York Observer, Hilton Kramer wrote on Walker's paintings: "The Maine landscapes in Mr. Walker's current exhibition are something else entirely. They are certainly the best paintings by Mr. Walker I have seen. They also bear no resemblance to any other paintings of the Maine sea coast, a subject that has certainly inspired a good many masterworks in the past, especially in the art of John Marin and Marsden Hartley, but also a good deal of pictorial kitsch. Mr. Walker approaches this overused subject as an outsider, and with a determination to avoid the picturesque. This is Maine in what is called the mud season, when the earth and the sea drain the fugitive light of its clarity and sparkle, and nature itself can seem to be unforgiving and unrenewable."

With his deeply painterly and wonderfully expressive brush strokes, and the dramatic rendering of deep space and surface, these landscape paintings seem to escape the boundaries of representation. The first impression they make is aggressive, threatening and they appear quite unpicturesque. However, as Carl Belz describes them, "The sheer, confident energy of the paint handling and the concentrated feeling embodied in the pictures' every mark simply blew away our assumptions about what they 'ought' to have been and compelled us in the moment to be as present to them as they were to us."

 

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