Sunday, December 18, 2011

Larry Walker Tells the Stories that Drive His Art

Larry Walker's speech was beyond impressive yesterday. I was actually mesmerized. If I could have scooped up his paintings and taken them home with me, the walls in his section of Mason Murer would have been absolutely bare.

As he said, he is in his paintings -- and Walker is a man given to deep thoughts and humble, passionate emotions. In many of the pieces on display, there are multi-level images that speak to the complexity of life. His view of the human condition is even reflected in a masterful, charcoal drawing of a cactus. With mortality on his mind, he pointed out that an aged, dying cactus drops its "arms" and exposes its insides to nourish the young. Walker the professor, the nurturer of artists, is a man who cares and it is part and parcel of his body of work.

At one point, Walker looked at the wall opposite him where three of his drawings were hung. Those are me, he said. Walker, a tall man in his seventies stands sturdy and straight. The figure in the drawings looked much, much older and frail, bent and leaning on a cane. As we age, there is the sense that we are on the downhill slope. Walker expresses without any disguise a deep sadness that the game is coming to an end.

He said that his work always comes back to the figurative, no matter what the medium. Even if you catch him waiting for an appointment or a meeting to begin, Walker is ever the artist who cannot resist sketching the people around him.

Early in life, Walker lived in New York and grew up with buildings and walls around him. These walls show up in a great deal of his work. Negative and positive space,
flawless composition, all elements of Walker's work that ultimately is about the human condition. The tragedy of slavery and the abuse of people who were dragged here from Africa are part and parcel of that view. One painting with shackles hanging from a canvas that is sliced in half reminds us that Walker is very, very aware of the issues that have plagued the South. While there is beauty in his work, thought and meaning drive it.

He admitted that he doesn't start out with a full-blown concept. It develops as he works and titles are attached afterwards. It is a fluid process, one that can easily be compared to the masters.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Art that makes you want to laugh and cry

Friday night I was one of the fortunate people invited to the opening of Alan Avery's exhibit, The Glass Ceiling, and after party. The man knows how to put together a show and he knows how to throw an awesome party.

Dancers from GloATL were part of the entertainment. They wove in and out of the crowd, edgy, opening questions that teased the audience without providing all the clues. This is a company that never has a down performance.

Art by the likes of Louise Nevelson, Helen Frankenthaler and Kara Walker were the impressive attractions for this celebration of Avery's 30th year anniversary of his gallery. A survivor by any measure. I have to admit I was in awe of Nevelson and Frankethaler. History was on the walls.

However, it was Kara Walker's work that took my breath away. This woman manages to create beautiful silhouettes of black people in motion. She exaggerates their features so you know they have to be black. And while their grace and delicacy are literally gorgeous, the stories they tell make the heart ache. These are masterpieces. What Walker has done negates the current trend that elevates the vulgar and the ugly. She has trashed the theory that exhibiting skill and beauty is out of fashion. Not surprisingly, most of her pieces had red dots next to them. Smart collectors? Probably. People who simply fell in love with the work. Just as likely. I did.

Thank you, Allen.