John R Walker
Rarely in the last decade has an artist captured the essence of the Australian bush like John R Walker. He has a love and feel of the countryside that is strong in his paintings. The Collection has a number of Walker’s paintings, mainly gouache on paper. The two represented here are from different series but have the same essential qualities of Australian landscape.
Born in 1957, John R Walker lives and works in Braidwood, New South Wales. He gained his art diploma in 1978 from Alexander Mackie College in Sydney and the following year embarked on a prolific history of solo exhibitions, mainly in Sydney but also in St Louis in the United States of America. In addition to his painting career, Walker was a lecturer in drawing and painting at several institutions over the twenty years to 2002. He has won several awards during his career and is represented in several major public collections including the NGA and the AGNSW, and in numerous private collections.
The genesis of John R Walker’s approach to his painting is his complete fascination for the history of the landscape, of any landscape. He sees his work as “history painting” in the sense that there is an awareness of the story of each place that he paints. “Landscape is history,” he said to the writer in a recent conversation. “Landscape is subject to human intervention over many years and each generation places a new layer of history over the old.” His painting references these layers and the effects of human presence. He cites as an example the relatively recent impact of farming on the bush, when observing the gullies caused by erosion.
“I immerse myself in a particular place when I’m painting and feel its story. I move towards a resolution, a summing up of that story.” Walker says that he finds all kinds of objects in the landscape that are part of what it is and what it represents. An old barbed wire fence gives him not only a physical, visual reference but also a historical one. Fenceline (2000) was painted when he was at Mount View in the Lower Hunter Valley of New South Wales, using an old hut a studio. He talked about the convergence of two gullies, a steeply rising, narrow ridge, open ground but for two angophora floribunda trees. The fenceline went up the ridge, giving an instant visual indication of the shape of the slope.
Walker moved to Braidwood in 2002. Ian’s Hill (2003) was painted on a neighbour’s property, in what the artist called “an island of natural bush in the sparse country grass plateau. It took me a while to get used to the semi-arid ground – it was very different to the dense sclerophyll forests of the east coast.” This painting is of a gentle rise. Walker’s acute observation noted the sub-alpine vegetation of the area contained more stunted, mallee-like trees than in the Hunter Valley.
John R Walker’s distinctive mark is his economy of brushwork, often resulting in a surface with minimal application of paint, perhaps in reference to the sparse vegetation of the country that he depicts so often. Walker sees representation as an end in itself, is fascinated by the area that hovers between the states of reality and imagination, and is not interested in illustration for its own sake. He sees the representation of a tree in his painting more as a representation of the tree in his mind, of his experience.