New York

John Walker

Cunningham Ward Gallery

John Walker won first prize in the 10th Biennial John Moores Exhibition at the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, England, this year. He is of that generation of British artists bewitched 25 years ago by the power and lucidity of Pollock and his American colleagues. He said to Caroline Tisdall in the Manchester Guardian he thought that Still’s remark to the effect that you can’t make good paintings until you’ve forgotten about Europe was just so much petty nationalism. But in a funny way Walker’s paintings are held back by a too-conscious reverence for a Synthetic Cubist organization of the picture plane.

The Synthetic Cubist understanding of pictorial elements as vaguely mechanical components of an entire picture-motor is translated effectively in Walker’s work by use of separate pieces of painted canvas glued to the painting for each color area. But he does not paint standard Synthetic Cubist paintings (on a heroic scale).

The complete identification of paint with the canvas it covers is a flatness strategy discussed in relation to the work of Morris Louis. Walker’s Abstract Expressionist scale and treatment of surface have culled he-man adjectives like “hewn and sheared” or “rough and sparse” from both sides of the Atlantic for his “Juggernaut” paintings. When people say Walker’s paintings are sculptural they are responding to the physicality of their elements but also to the fact that these elements are often silhouetted against the original canvas surface. Walker accentuates a basic formal weakness in his work (and that of Synthetic Cubism) by sprinkling chalk dust over the tacky (wet) surface of the background of his paintings, giving it a strange de-materialized quality, and excluding it from any spatial interaction with his collaged elements.

Walker employs an aggressive, take-charge means of making his large and striking pictures. But a new way to make paintings does not guarantee new paintings. Walker seems to want it both ways. He wants the scale and assertiveness of postwar American painting, but clings to a French easel painting esthetic that assures those of his audience who might still be uncertain about American modern art that Walker, anyway, is still in the high art business.

Ross Skoggard