Working in portraiture, painting freehand, using only spray paint and without the aid of brushes David Walker has developed a signature multi-layered style. Incorporating both sophisticated and dumb mark making he creates countless scrawled lines and abstract areas that weave through clashing colours, translucent drips and decaying letterforms, the results are visually rich portraits that fuse photo realism, abstraction and graffiti art sensibilities with a raw energy that comes from the medium.
It is always exciting to meet the artists and discover their creations during a Festival. In our interview with David we talk about his approach, how his work evolved and about his latest artwork revealed during the Crystal Ship in Ostend, Belgium.
Julie: Could you tell me about your artistic journey?
David Walker: That’s a long long answer!, the quickest way to put it is that I made a conscious decision to try and make art my everyday and then I tried to make every other decision based around that. I’ve been exhibiting work in one form or another for around 15 years now.
Julie: In your early works you mostly used a black and white palette. Could you tell me more about how your style and technique gradually developed?
David Walker: I used a limited colour palette initially to save money, it also took the dilemma of colour out of the equation so I cold really focus on how to paint a face and making the spray paint do what I wanted. In first few paintings I used markers, but found very quickly I didn’t actually need to, then I became drawn to the idea of being able to make both the canvas and mural work with exactly the same method. To me this posed interesting questions about graffiti, street and fine art within the public arena and gallery confines.
Julie: Your technique later evolved with vivid colours in your works. How did this shift came about and where is the interest painting portraits coming from?
David Walker: After some years I was getting a little tired of the constraint, there was a box of random colour spray cans in my studio that a friend had given me, one day I just tried them out and it went from there, colour was a new dimension to explore.
I have been interested in portraiture since a very a young age, I was always drawing as a child and for me a good portrait was the measure of art, I found it unbelievable what artists could achieve with paint and the human form. So when I started to tackle painting myself, it was the natural place to start.
Julie: With a unique texture and sophistication, your work is visually rich blended with colours drip, abstraction, graffiti art, and photo realism. Could you talk me through your technique and process of creation?
David Walker: Its always changing in subtle increments but in the beginning the idea was to make a beautiful portrait with the mark making language of vandalism.
This put the works in an interesting place, when I start a piece on the street people often think I simply making a mess and destroying a building but as the face appears they change their perception of the work, even though its made from the same ‘ugly’ marks.
When I make the work I tend to just start with a colour and then react to it with another and so on, its for enjoyable for me to paint that way as I do not know how the work will turn out.
Julie: Working in portraiture your creations generate emotions – How do you want the viewer to interpret your work?
David Walker: I choose images that are ‘neutral’. If you show someone obviously happy or sad then the painting can only ever have one reading. I prefer to paint people when their faces are naturally still, this gives the viewer the opportunity to interpret the work themselves.
Julie: Your portraits feature women, men, and children. Are the people you paint close to you?
David Walker: Some are and some are strangers I approach, its more about them than my relationship to them.
Julie: For your show “Shake Your Skin Loose” in Denver you revealed a new creative process and aesthetic. You also presented a series of works on paper with phrases set within the portraits’ silhouette. Could tell more about your approach and process here?
David Walker: I had been trying out new paint systems and working more with text, I wanted to try something a little different, still grounded in portraiture but with a fresh feel. I had hit on a new process and based the paintings around that. Mixing Gloss, enamel, spray paint and acrylic, I’m really happy with that body of work.
Julie: I have seen your work on the streets and canvasses. More recently you explored other mediums including sculpture. Is that something you would like to explore further and are there any other mediums that you are currently working on?
David Walker: I’m actually working on a sculpture right now as well as with a textile specialist, there are other mediums i’m looking at also, We’ll see what comes of it, maybe nothing, but its really cool to investigate these ideas and techniques.
Julie: You are one of the participating artists here in Ostend for the Crystal ship Festival. This is not your first collaboration with them, could you tell me more about your past collaborative projects?
David Walker: I’ve done a couple of murals with them now in Belgium and I really I like their vibe, so whenever they ask me, I say yes. People underestimate how much preparation and organisation these events take and The Crystal ship seem to go that bit further to make sure you get what you need and everyone is having a good time.
Julie: This is your first participation to the Crystal ship in Ostend tell us more about your work here? Where did your inspiration came from ?
David Walker: Its a silhouette painting incorporating text, which I is a series are started in Denver.
I wrote the text about 10 years ago and when Bjørn the curator sent me the theme of this years festival it came to mind.
I have been through some pretty turbulent times in the last few years in life and art and have considered stopping showing work publicly on more than one occasion. The phrase ‘A blank canvas is a white flag’ for me is about simply keeping going, that if you are not creating work then you are surrendering to all the forces and realisms that make you want to stop.
Julie: What is your approach from working ahead for a show in gallery to completing large scale murals for a Festival like The Crystal Ship?
David Walker: It’s almost opposite, for a gallery show you have a substantial stretch of time to make a cohesive body of work and for a mural festival, its normally a short period of time to make one work that essentially stands alone. When preparing an exhibition the work and concept can evolve as your making it. In contrast, at a festival you usually only have a small window to paint, so I’ve found its best to be pre-prepared.
Julie: What’s next for you? Are there any upcoming projects that you can share with us?
David Walker: Most likely I will be stepping back for a while and locking myself in the studio. Time is moving faster and faster these days, so I am attempting to slow it down for a spell.
Photos / Interview by Julie