Rachel Boyd reviews Richard Walker's exhibition currently on show at the GSA.
“Go into yourself...search for the reason that bids you write; find out whether you would have to die if it were denied you to write. This above all – ask yourself in the stillest hours of the night – must I write?”
This quote, taken from the German Poet Rainer Maria Rilke’s seminal compilation, Letters to a Young Poet, describes the sense of intrinsic preoccupation which all creators – whether poets or painters – share. This same dedication is evident within the Studio Paintings of GSA Painting and Printmaking tutor, Richard Walker. Over forty oil paintings, laboured over the period of a year align the walls of the Reid Gallery from every angle. They act in an allusion to a singular, panoramic shot; as an ode to the artistic reflections and abruptions which trace the contours of Walker’s own studio, where he is based in Glasgow’s Kinning Park Complex. In maintaining a reverence for what may appear to be glimpses into a base subject matter, Walker’s studio provides for some intriguing insights into the concept of the ‘studio’ itself: a space not only for work, but for reflection.
Alike the Rilke Quote, Walker’s forty-six paintings ask of the inward meaning of his practice: where each work, completed in a matter of hours, illustrates the significance of his studio by way of minimal mark-making and fluid composition, under constraints of time and light. The studio – symbolically a birthplace of ideas – is presented with careful consideration of colour. Overall, the paintings are backboned in tonal hues of red, green, purple and blue, are then layered with often whiter, yellower, darker marks, which hint at amicable forms of transience: sunsets, autumn, dusk.
Despite painting all of his works during the day, Walker has been said to have ‘blacked out’ all sources of natural light: in order to refer to tangible contrasts which would usually be unseen by the naked eye. These contrasts make shapes within the glassy, shivering reflections of a mirror, as spied in ‘Monkeys’; the bulbous entrance of the next room, as viewed within ‘Donkguy’, and echoed, on larger scale and whiter-white, in ‘Family with Purple’. In highlighting these fragments of shape and line, Walker’s work speaks of the idealistic notions of painting (with reference to infinite, classical nightscapes, seen in the silver sparkle in ‘Stars’). ‘Studio Paintings’ also refers to the inward necessity of his painting, as a solitary, reflective occupation: in which one particular canvas, titled ‘Middle of Something’, takes precedence.
In ‘Middle of Something’, two lines separate the canvas into a triptych, with Walker’s figure at its centre. He stands purposefully, and – almost in declaration of his profession – has a paintbrush poised in hand; yet evidently, in his element. It is this figure, in all its ambiguity, which somehow evokes all of the dark, melancholic intensity of an Edward Hopper painting. Tan and terracotta mark the fleshy curves of his half-naked frame, where his eyes gaze forebodingly at the viewer in two vague smudges of charcoal grey. The same grey has been utilized on the far right of the canvas in outlining a wall, and a cloth splayed on the floor, emphasized by spidery lines. On the far left, the same wall is represented at an angle, highlighting the perspective of the space, and gradually leading your attention back to the centre - wherein lie the blacked out windows, the busy folds of fabric in the background, the dappled light across the table; all where Walker balances a palette of muted colours.
The skill he has accumulated as a painter allows his minimal, almost abstract approach to representation to trigger a whole composition within the mind of the viewer, as opposed to the few stray marks you may initially perceive on the canvas. In this case, the stray two lines - scraped into the paint - lie directly ‘In the middle of something’. This accidental triptych acts to dismiss the common assumption that studios, as private, spacial environments are enclosed or hollow; places where we must creep or fear intrusion. Instead, Richard Walker invites us in.
Review by Rachel Boyd
All pictures by Alan Dimmick