New York

Douglas Walker

49th Parallel

Canadian artist Douglas Walker is one of the more obsessive visual poets of ’80s cultural debris. He has a history of documenting the accoutrements of young male outcasts—leather jackets, motorcycles, and tattoos are among the dangerous kid stuff layering his pointedly blurry photographs and drawings. Walker’s new large, untitled photographs are somewhat different. Instead of soft-selling the contents of his dream garage, he coolly presents examples of industrial architecture—factories, watch towers, oil refineries, freeway spans. Sometimes the structures have been double-printed, producing side-by-side images. Often they’re interrupted or obscured by splotches of spray paint, grids, and swooping lines. This wispy, careful graffiti is the most obvious holdover from Walker’s earlier work, but here it has been thoughtfully tailored to each image—polka dots for a bank of lights, a grille for the front of a train, fluorescent lesions for a nuclear plant, and so on.

Walker used to render his subject matter with the distorted flourish of the intended lover. This newer imagery is almost miniaturized, crystal clear, and framed in the eye of a paint fog that thickens at the pictures’ edges. In Untitled #8, 1987, a very outdated-looking factory appears to speed trainlike from right to left through a brightened void. Walker creates this effect of motion by giving the building’s facade a long body of lightly spray-painted perspectival stripes with hard-edged tops and fuzzy bottoms. The technique is too obvious to make a convincing illusion; the artist’s touch is heavy-handed enough to exude disingenuousness as well as desire. The ashy factory’s fairy-tale prettiness indicates unabashed nostalgia, but the surrounding cloud seems more to do with fatigue. Some works even sport little abstract markings not unlike those that seem to float before one’s eyes after a long and sleepless night. Walker’s overall point may be that we’ve looked to Modernist models for so long that we can’t see their bankruptcy for our hypnosis. I suspect, however, that the depersonalized subjects of the artist’s new work are merely attempts to expand his own daydreamy empire. Walker seems so blinded by obsession that even when he sees beyond his immediate frame of reference, he remains a kind of stargazer.

Dennis Cooper