I do not know, and have never met, the artist Steve Walker. Yet, he has elicited a familiarity and sentimentality in his paintings at once startling and eerie — as if I could know his experiences and he, mine.
I’ve chosen a few of his pieces particularly speaking to an “aha” moment — you know, when you see something quickly and turn back to it in awe, silently saying, “Oh my God”… “I’ve been there”… “That was us!”… “That was me”… “That is me”… “I remember that loneliness”… “I still feel that sense of ‘the missing'”… “I remember that dread and sadness”… “Oh, THAT was a wonderful experience”… or even… “I can feel him”…
The point of the matter with his work, for me, seems to be Walker’s ability to tap into himself, and me even, as a gay man, but also an ability to tap into the humanness within us all, whether gay or straight, or anything between. Steve’s paintings are about us all as humans…
From Steve Walker’s website introduction:
I remember feeling a strange sense of elation upon having survived childhood, a rural environment, education, and the knowledge that my sexual orientation (which never felt a mystery or problem to me, personally) would forever cause some people who had never met me and would never know me to hate me and others like me.
Life goes on.
Within months of feeling this newfound sense of peace, a dinner conversation introduced me to a new word that would forever change my life and the lives of so many others: AIDS.
Life would never be the same again.
And… the importance of life to me (my own and others’) would be changed forever. I felt surrounded by a plague that stigmatized gay people to a degree far exceeding that which we had already suffered. An overwhelming and paralyzing sense of fear, anger, sadness, and loss enveloped my life and the lives of so many others.
Being an actor suddenly meant very little to me. I felt powerless. I could not stop the dying or find a cure for the insidious disease. Maybe — just maybe, though — I could help find a cure for the hatred, fear, and ignorance that surrounded so many young men around the world as they lay in hospital beds and drew the last breaths of unfinished lives. I started to paint.
Slowly, sporadically, and privately, I taught myself to paint and began creating paintings about the experiences and emotions that all human beings share. Themes of love, attraction, hope, despair, loneliness, the beauty of sky, the perfection of a horizon, the power of a person touching another were given life on pieces of canvas. I created images that came from a place of truth. I tried to make sense of and give order to a world that seemed to know neither.
It simply never occurred to me to paint about themes in any other context than that of my own life as a person who happens to be gay. I had never had a problem relating to work created by heterosexuals in a heterosexual context. Why should I create paintings whose context was anything other than the truth of my life as a gay man?
I started showing my early paintings in bars and restaurants in the gay neighborhood of Toronto. From there things moved very quickly. Within a short time, I exhibited and sold my work in high-end, mainstream galleries throughout North America, and reproductions of my work throughout the world.
I see my work as a documentation, an interpretation, a crystallization of singular moments rendered in line, color, light, shadow, using a hundred brushes, a thousand colors, and a million brushstrokes. I strive to make people stop — if only for a moment — to think and actually feel something human… and humane. My paintings contain as many questions as answers.
I hope that in its silence the body of my work has given a voice to my life, the lives of others, and in doing so, the dignity of all people.
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