Critics’ Picks

Larry Walker, Secret # II, Wall Series (Extension), 2008, acrylic and latex on board, rope, slave shackle, 69 x 74''. From the “Wall Series,” ca. 1980s– .

Larry Walker, Secret # II, Wall Series (Extension), 2008, acrylic and latex on board, rope, slave shackle, 69 x 74''. From the “Wall Series,” ca. 1980s– .

New York

Larry Walker

Sikkema Jenkins & Co.
530 West 22nd Street
June 9–July 15, 2016

Larry Walker is Kara Walker’s father, and it’s hard to resist reading this career-spanning show of his drawings and mixed-media paintings, curated by his famous daughter, through her work. You look for—and find—ways in which his practice, described by her in the press release as “the background hum of my life from infancy,” may have shaped her sensibility. Larry Walker’s use of silhouette, for example, is striking in its own right, but it’s particularly notable in light of Kara Walker’s brutal and exquisite cut-paper murals of plantation life in the antebellum South. Both artists share a tendency toward black and white, leveraging the graphic impact of their anti-palette while invoking the racialized rhetorical sense of the phrase “black and white” lurking in every description of their work.

In Larry Walker’s charcoal drawing Elegy for Michael: Passage Through the Valley, Metamorphic Series, 2010, Michael Jackson is shown in profile, turning away from us in a cowboy hat and surrounded by flame-like birds. His outline is filled not with his features but with a big misplaced eye and a sliced-up photograph of himself. This embellished collage element depicts the pop star morphing into a horse-demon. Larry Walker shifts gracefully, psychedelically, between figuration and abstraction––often within the same composition––to achieve an effect of lyrical interiority. But his use of found material and pop-cultural references breach the dreaminess. Some of his paintings feel gummed up by reality itself, with layers of advertisements and magazine pages. His “Wall Series,” a continuing body of work that began in the 1980s, includes a pair of sober diptychs on canvas, each cleaved by a hanging sculptural element. In the landscape-ish abstraction Secret # V (With Spirit Voices and W’s), 2009, a chain-wrapped piece of Georgia granite is suspended just below the painting’s edge by a black rope. Similarly, in the mostly black, elegantly spray-painted Secret # II, Wall Series (Extension), 2008, antique slave shackles hang dead center like a frozen pendulum.

This unusual survey show, a welcome introduction to the little-known artist, is an opportunity to reflect on intergenerational influence, on how things are not simply handed down but explored simultaneously, the work benefiting from a mutual “background hum” of intellectual-artistic osmosis.