Friday, September 26, 2008

Essay: Katie Walker

by Wim Roefs

Katie Walker occupies a space somewhere between Abstract Expressionism and Color Field painting. She’s not alone. Helen Frankenthaler, Morris Louis and others have combined some of the aesthetics of Abstract Expressionism with the techniques of Color Field painting, especially staining unprimed canvas. 

Walker’s work also has elements of Minimalism and geometric art, without the hard edges and clinical feel. In the past, she has attached pieces of painted canvas on a larger canvas, “stitching” one piece to another by applying paint to the edges of the smaller piece on top. At that stage, Conrad Marca-Relli came to mind.

None of this is to suggest that Walker’s work is derivative. The references merely place her work in the tradition of post-World War II abstraction. In Walker’s hands, elements of that tradition take a distinctly personal and original form.

“It’s hard to pinpoint influences,” Walker says, “and I hate doing it because you get categorized so easily. But Marca-Relli is a major influence, and maybe Frankenthaler. I admire her work though, I think that my work looks very different. But I like to work with watered-down paint, like her, and I pour paint. I like Motherwell, too, but I don’t study him. In my small pieces I like to play with scale, like he did. The small pieces seem monumental because the shape in them is so large.”

“I like to use off colors, not directly out of the tube. I am intuitive about it but try to have one color activate the next color. I am very calculated, figure stuff out in advance. It’s calculated activity.”

Walker works with brayers, spackling scrapers and her hands. And she pours and squirts from plastic bottles, sometimes with two or more holes to create multiple streams, parallel lines. She mostly uses unprimed canvas, applying thin layers of acrylic paint, though her small pieces are often on wood, painted with oils.

Walker used to take cues from the natural world and landscapes, including rock formations. “My drawing has become so automatic that it does not relate to landscapes and such anymore. Some of the shapes are still there, but I no longer think of them as landscapes. When someone asks why there are circles attached to each other, I know where it comes from, but the work is completely non-objective now.”

For practical reasons, Walker also works on small surfaces, but she prefers large canvases. “I am not sure why,” she says. “I have a lot of energy, and with big paintings I can put my whole body into it. I think of drawing and painting as an aggressive activity. So in part it’s the process, the aggressive nature of painting big. Get up on the floor with your butt up in the air or stand and move into it like a boxer. I have no place to store those big paintings, but I can’t stop doing them.”

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