“The Sea No II,” 2014, oil on canvas by John Walker, 72 x 60 inches (JW 14.63) © John Walker, courtesy Alexandre Gallery, New York
“The Sea No II,” 2014, oil on canvas by John Walker, 72 x 60 inches (JW 14.63) © John Walker, courtesy Alexandre Gallery, New York
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John Walker (born 1939) is a master colorist - which has as much to do with balance, patterning and separation of colors as with particular hues, saturation or brightness. There is nothing fussy or precious about Walker's color.



His earth colors - orange-reds, gray-browns, yellow-greens - are spot-on for wet muck and dried seaweed, kelp, dead branches, and forest understory brush. In certain paintings there is specificity and particularity of littoral edges, the wet, gooey shoreline flora that most of us smell before we ever see.



In these paintings and others he uses wide brushes and great swaths of paint to apply relatively few colors. Underlying and intermixed gels - translucent binding media - have a quality of air welling from within the layers of paint; color seems to breathe as it advances or recedes. In several large paintings vertical and horizontal bands lift and intersect, denoting wave action in the cove or how the small island seems to intercept movement seen from a distant shoreline.



The large thumb-like white shape in several paintings is Seal Point in winter as seen from above. Its placement in other paintings varies from top to bottom of the canvas as the same basic shape varies from a truncated ovoid form to a slightly bent and outstretched thumb or torso, harking back to a recurring human-figure form that has haunted Walker's work from nearly the beginning of his career. References to human and landscape elements converge and coalesce.



In several paintings, luminous variations of cobalt blue, grayed white undertones and white bands zig and zag up and down and across the canvas as schematic wave and wake action; these bars often encroach across land forms, as well. The blue is reminiscent of a particular blue used by Robert Motherwell, whose "Open" paintings recite the water and air seen from doors and windows of his Provincetown studio, "Sea Barn." "The fetch," they say in coastal Maine and Massachusetts, "is Spain," and a kind of Mediterranean light is not so surprising. The saturated color and linear, intersecting patterns recall Matisse's fauve landscapes from the beginning of the 20th century. Walker's bent stripes as in "Drift" (2014), however, are far less well-behaved - they refuse to stay put in a seascape context and as such exist for their own "deep-throated say." Walker does not quote artists he admires; he takes them for a walk into his own dense and reverberating inscape of mysterious forms, light infused color, effulgent and roughened textures.



The paintings don't depict Seal Point but rather are meditations on the ineffable qualities of a place as Walker has experienced it - color, light, motion, shape, texture - recording the narrative of how the artist feels about this special location over the course of changing seasons, months and years. In the end the paintings have less to do with degrees of abstraction or representation - and great art is always contingent upon and open to both. Rather, Walker's paintings evoke and describe a fierce, restless hand insisting on its fragile existence at the ragged edges of a place he "owns" in paint and spirit.