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If you accept that paint is colored mud, and you put it on a canvas, you realize it is only a genius, like Turner or Rembrandt, who can turn it into air. It is the height of ambition, it seems to me, to be a painter. How do you do this: turn it into air, or a piece of silk, or a piece of flesh? How does Cézanne tap, tap, tap this thing, and turn it into this? It is a magical thing — it is alchemy. And it is your hands that do it.1
John Walker is a head of the graduate program at Boston University School of Visual Arts. A preeminent artist of the twentieth century, Walker holds continuing relevance as both a painter and educator in the twenty-first. Blending his early influences from abstract expressionism and post-painterly abstraction with an earthy palette and collaged elements inspired by extensive study of Oceanic and indigenous Australian art, Walker has maintained throughout his artistic career a level of inventiveness and idiosyncrasy rarely seen. “He has continued to explore subject matter that few painters would dare approach, and he has continued to move up and back across the risky line between abstraction and representation in original and unexpected ways. … His work has, in the fullest sense, matured and deepened with the passage of time and currently has a weight, grandeur, and painterly complexity that are virtually unique in contemporary painting” (Jack Flam “Time and Tides: Recent Paintings by John Walker,” in John Walker: Time and Tides, Knoedler & Company, New York, 2001).
Walker was born in 1939 in Birmingham, England, and studied at the Birmingham College of Art and Academie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris. In 1969 he was awarded the Harkness Fellowship. During the 1970s he began diving his time between England and the United States, teaching at Cooper Union, Yale University, the Royal College of Art and St Catherine’s College. During this time he became loosely associated with the New York School of postwar abstraction. He later traveled to Australia, where he lived and taught for several years. It was here that he first encountered and developed a deep interest in indigenous Australian art. He represented England at the 1972 Venice Biennale, and has had solo exhibitions at the Phillips Collection, in 1978, 1982, and 2002, and in Beijing in 2010.
His work can be found in an exhaustive list of museum collections, including The Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois; The British Museum, London, England; Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, Massachusetts; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.; Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; MIT-List Visual Arts Center, Cambridge, Massachusetts; Museum am Ostwall, Dortmund, Germany; Museum Neuhaus—Sammlung Liaunig, Austria; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, Illinois; The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, California; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase College, State University of New York; The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.; Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art Gallery, Edinburgh; Tate Gallery, London, England; Ulster Museum, Belfast, Northern Ireland; Victoria and Albert Museum, London, England; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Connecticut; among others.
1Read a recent interview with John Walker on Hyperallergic.