Monday, September 27, 2021

Remembering Steve Walker

Since the beginning of this blog, I have used the 2001 painting “David and Me” by Canadian artist Steve Walker as my profile picture and my avatar. Someday, I may change it to an actual picture of me, but for now, it remains. I chose it for what I think is a very good reason. Back in 2006, I spent a month in Italy conducting research for my dissertation. I remember standing in front of and looking up at the remarkable statue of
 David by Michelangelo much like the guy in the picture, though I don’t think I was wearing a backpack at the time. It was a truly awesome experience. Each time I look at images of the painting I am transported back to that day in the Galleria dell'Accademia in Florence. Of course, back then I did have a head full of brown hair with a similar hairstyle. Today, there is much less hair and what I do have left is now nearly completely gray. I don’t have the muscle definition I had back then, and there’s more weight on my body. The painting has always had a special place in my heart, and I wish I owned an actual print of the image.

Walker passed away at his home in Costa Rica on Jan 4,2012, at age 50. He was best known for his haunting and poignant acrylic portraits of beautiful young men (solo and in pairs), often done in muted shades. “Some colors are very exciting to me,” he once told James Lyman, a Massachusetts gallery owner, and Walker’s art executor and trustee. “While others are quite offensive. Painting flesh is very exciting to me because of the huge variations possible within a very small color range.”

According to friends, Walker was strongly influenced by Renaissance Italian artist Caravaggio – especially in his use of shadow to show the contours of the young male form. For his subjects, he chose to paint gay men, depicting the struggles and joys the gay community lived through in his lifetime, from the fight for sexual liberation to the devastation brought about by HIV and AIDS. Walker believed his subjects were universal, touching on themes of love, hate, pain, joy, beauty, loneliness, attraction, hope, despair, life, and death. 

As a homosexual, I have been moved, educated, and inspired by works that deal with a heterosexual context. Why would I assume that a heterosexual would be incapable of appreciating work that speaks to common themes in life, as seen through my eyes as a gay man? If the heterosexual population is unable to do this, then the loss is theirs, not mine

—Steve Walker

Walker was an entirely self-taught artist and sold his first painting, Blue Boy in 1990. He painted a second in 1991, called Morning, of two young men in bed after sex. Walker’s paintings were mostly large because he believed that a large image was more appealing and has more impact than a smaller one. As with many artists, Walker was painting the sadness that was in his life. Two of Walker’s partners had died over the years, and his close friend Marlene Anderson says he was lonely. His paintings are about gay life, and the focus of them often depicted sadness and loneliness to reflect the reality that much of anyone’s life is sad and lonely. Walker told a friend that it is rare to find success as an artist, and Walker was happy his work would be his lasting legacy.

I strive to make people stop, if only a moment, think and actually feel something. My paintings contain as many questions as answers. I hope that in its silence, the body of my work has given a voice to my life, the lives of others, and in doing so, the dignity of all people.

—Steve Walker

In his lifetime, Walter’s work was exhibited in Toronto, Montreal, Los Angeles, Fort Lauderdale, Provincetown, and Pasadena. Much of the gay community loved Walker’s work and many pieces were sold for several thousand dollars. His art appears on the covers of gay novels, such as American writer Felice Picano’s 1995 epic Like People in History and the late Gordon Anderson’s novel of 1970s Toronto, The Toronto You Are Leaving. His paintings also grace the covers of six books by Michael Thomas Ford: Last SummerLooking For ItFull CircleChanging TidesWhat We Remember, and The Road Home. Ford describes the book on his website mirroring what has been said about Walker’s art:

Much of my fiction is about what it's like living as a gay man at this time in history. These six novels look at different aspects of the gay experience. Although they share a cover style, they are not a series, and may be read in any order. Many people ask who the cover artist is. It's Steve Walker. Steve died in 2012, but his wonderful artwork capturing the lives of gay men remains to remind us of his talent.


naturgesetz said...

Self taught. Wow!

uvdp said...

Can you remind the young man that it is forbidden to stroke statues ?

Joe said...

I thought the same thing, naturgesetz.

LOL, uvdp. In the museum world, this would cause a curator to have a heart attack.

JiEL said...

Steve Walker is one of my favorite gay artist and as like me he's a Canadian artist and it makes it more interesting to me.
I saw some real paintings of him here in Montreal in an art gallery in the old Montreal many years ago. Also a gay couple of mine had many reproductions of his painting all over their condo. I like the way he «softly» shows gays relationships with so «normal» scenes with a bit of prude look. As the gay love is something normal and in all moments of life.

In autumn 2000 I was dating a man who was in the artistic field and Steve Walker asked him to be is voice in Montreal as a press attaché but unfortunatly a «bad» friend of his told him that Steve wasn't a «good artist» so my friend didn't do it. It's just when he met me that he saw how wrong it was to turn down this opportunity.

It's sad that he passed away so young.

kent said...

thank you for the insight into the artist and his work

BosGuy said...

What a great post. I recognize his work from the Michael Thomas Ford covers but I wouldn't be surprised if I had seen it in Provincetown too. H

Adam said...

Thanks for the background on this remarkable artist. I had only seen a small, online version of "David and Me", and for all these years I assumed it was a photograph. It's a pleasure to see more of this artist's work, too.

I, too, once stood at the feet of David in Florence. I arrived just before the museum was closing for the day, and they warned me I only had 10 or so minutes inside before I would have to leave. It was all I needed and more. I had this magnificent sculpture all to myself and drank in its beauty and strength. I'll never forget that 10 minutes of my life, and I relive it every time I see this painting on your blog.

Joe said...

BosGuy, until I was looking up some information for this post, I think I had forgotten that Walker's artwork was used on Michael Thomas Ford's book covers. I have always been an admirer of Walker's paintings. I'd love to see them in person.

Adam, David is a remarkable statue. I was not lucky enough to be alone to see it. The place was packed, but I will always remember being there seeing the statue in person.