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John Walker

Abstract Artist

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John Walker (born 1939) is an English painter and printmaker. He has been called "one of the standout abstract painters of the last 50 years."

Walker studied in Birmingham at the Moseley School of Art, and later the Birmingham School of Art and Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris. Some of his early work was inspired by abstract expressionism and post-painterly abstraction, and often combined apparently three-dimensional shapes with "flatter" elements. These pieces are usually rendered in acrylic paint.

The Headingley series of lithographs are in a group of five similar abstract shapes with changing elements and colours. They were published in 1969 by Nigel Greenwood and inspired by the 'Lesson' series of paintings 1968-69:

'Lesson 1' 1968, a canvas now in the collection of the Tate, painted in Leeds, at the beginning of Walker's second ‘Lesson’ series. Walker's first ‘Lesson’ series, painted in 1966, was of rhomboidal canvases with straight lines (on a black ground) as the only figuration; this earlier series was ‘about trying to describe solid forms entirely by linear means, in fact diagrammatic, hence the Blackboard look’ (letter from the artist dated 4 March 1969, from which all subsequent quotations are taken). Walker completed three ‘Lesson’ paintings in 1968, of which no. I is in the Tate Collection; no. II belongs to the City Art Gallery, Leeds; and No. III is in his own possession. By 1969, he had completed nine, numbered in the series I to IX, 1969.

John Walker said "The trapezoidal canvas shape was meant to imply extent and stretch and the shape had to have structure. The vertical horizontal lines are to compartmentalize the picture to add linear tension and scale."

Nigel Greenwood exhibited John Walker in 1970 at his 'legendary' Glebe Place Gallery, where he also showed Gilbert & George (the famous "Underneath the Arches/Singing Sculptures" performance), Keith Milow & Ed Ruscha.

From the late 1970s, John Walker's work marked allusions to earlier painters, such as Francisco Goya, Édouard Manet and Henri Matisse, either through the quoting of a pictorial motif, or the use of a particular technique. Also during this time, he began to use oil paint more in his work. His paintings of the 1970s are also notable for what has come to be termed canvas collage – the application of glued-on, separately painted patches of canvas to the main canvas, also as per the Headingley series.

After spending some time in Australia, Walker got a position at the Victoria College of the Arts in Melbourne. He produced the Oceania series around this time which incorporates elements of native Oceanic art.

Walker is currently the head of the graduate painting program at Boston University, following Philip Guston in this position.

Walker won the 1976 John Moores Painting Prize and was nominated for the Turner Prize in 1985.

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