Richard Walker – Scene notes

Notes on five oil paintings on board made by Richard Walker in 2023 and presented by a-m-g5 at 20 Albert Road, Glasgow, from 11 November until 10 December in that year.

Richard Walker’s paintings examine the experience of looking, how the world is seen and experienced and how that experience might be recorded. For him the activity of painting is problem solving – the problems being conceptual and material at the same time – and what he makes are representations of his evolving visual understanding of his place in the world. They are not so much inquiries into the nature of the physical world as they are an artist’s reaction to it, translated in terms of paint, in a studio.

Walker makes paintings of his studio, or more precisely, of the elaborate assemblages – stage sets almost – that he creates there. These he constructs out of different materials which can include timber, draped cloth, painted cardboard and paper cutouts, mirrors and other reflecting surfaces, painted polystyrene and old bits of junk. This is all then lit with images transmitted from a data projector. Walker spends a lot of time working on the images that he will project. Using a laptop and a mobile phone he gathers together, manipulates and distorts a vast array of material. Any one projection for a ‘set’ or assemblage might include combined images of his own and other artists’ works; things in the natural world observed outside his house, such as the camouflage patterns of birds and moths; found photographs and cinema film stills. The projections take on the role of dreams or memories in relation to immediate observation and visual experience. Illusion and allusion are greatly complicated.


All the works in this exhibition depict the same studio ‘set’. They were painted in oils onto boards prepared with a thixotropic primer that provides a smooth, hard, white surface. Each was made in one concentrated sitting, typically lasting from four to five hours with maybe a short break. The act of painting becomes an event in which energy and tension must be maintained and through which the attentive spectator is drawn into the experience of making. Walker is constantly exploring new ways of mark making – using a cloth dipped in turpentine to draw into the wet ground colour, rubbing the paint off to create areas of chiaroscuro or scraping the paint to make surface marks unachievable with a brush. He registers shifts from recognisable identity to indeterminacy – ambiguities of background/ foreground, form/space. He tries to make marks that coincide with what he is looking at, but at the same time he embraces the power of indeterminate forms and the panorama of illusions that may be evoked by them.


The use of colour, meanwhile, is also the exploration of light. By giving his colours enough subtlety and the correct tone, Walker hopes to convey the experience of seeing. Some of the colour comes from the projected images, but this is altered by the pigmentation of objects, cloths and debris in the assembled ‘set’, which also create areas of shadow. One of the pleasures of painting for Walker is the matching of colour and the rigour that this requires – looking from the object/‘set’ to colours on the palette, then to colour relationships on the painted board. The white of the primer, the colour of the ground and the viscosity of the paint can all affect these relationships. A multitude of small additions and mixtures make the colour vibrant and one colour can perform a number of roles, depending on whether it is used as a glaze or more opaquely.

Studio Painting.

For Walker the studio is not simply the site where he works, but a condition of working. It is where he assembles, projects and finally paints his knowledge and experience. The evolution of his work in recent years might usefully be thought of in terms set out in Svetlana Alpers’s ‘The View from the Studio’, a fascinating discussion of the historical change, from the mimetic to the analytic, in how artists represented objects in the studio.1 Walker’s paintings reflect his careful consideration of the work of other painters – Paul Cézanne, Georges Braque and Jasper Johns are three who are important for Walker – who have used the studio as a reference and setting for their work.

In an interview published in the French magazine Réalités in August 1958, Braque told art critic John Richardson that what intrigued him above all else was what he called the metamorphic side to reality. Asked what he meant by ‘metamorphic’, Braque replied, “The fact that no object can be tied down to one sort of reality. Let us take an example: a stone. A stone may be part of a wall, a piece of sculpture, a lethal weapon, a pebble on a beach or anything else you like, just as this file in my hand can be metamorphosed into a shoe-horn or a spoon according to the way in which I use it.” The published interview ends with Braque expressing his concern, with regard to works of art, that “…whenever you explain or define something you substitute the explanation or the definition for the real thing. Instead of having matters made clearer, I should like to have them made even more obscure….You see, there are certain mysteries, certain secrets in my own work which I don’t understand, nor do I try to do so. Mysteries have to be respected if they are to retain their power. Art disturbs: science reassures; I am an artist not a scientist, a seeker after poetry and not after facts.”2

A longer essay on Richard Walker’s work might valuably place it within both its historical and contemporary contexts, explore the different realities that he addresses in his paintings and discuss his engagement with the psychology of perception. It might also expand on the comments made above regarding his work’s place within the genre of studio painting. Present on the surfaces of Richard Walker’s paintings is that tension between marking and storing time that David Joselit identified as one of modern painting’s specificities.3 To place Walker’s work within the debate about painting in ‘the Post-medium Condition’ should be a further objective of a longer essay.

Andrew Mummery, November 2023

1 Svetlana Alpers, The View from the Studio, in ‘The Vexations of Art’, Yale University Press, 2005 pp. 9-45

2 Braque Discusses His Art. A dialogue with John Richardson. Published in ‘Réalités’, August 1958. Number 93.

3 David Joselit, Scoring, Storing and Speculating (on Time), in ‘Painting beyond Itself: The Medium in the Post-medium Condition’, edited by Isabelle Graw and Ewa Lajer-Burcharth. Sternberg Press, 2016.