Delving into what it means to be human
● By J. Chambless
Brett Walker in his West Chester studio.
By John Chambless
“My favorite response to my work is either people love it or hate it. I embrace both,” Brett Anderson Walker said with a wry smile. “If they hate it, they have to think about why. If they love it, they have to analyze why. That's a direct relationship between the viewer and the painting. The worst reaction is, 'Yeah, that's interesting,' because that means they don't get it.”
With an international reputation and collectors on both sides of the Atlantic, Walker is delving back into painting after several years of devoting himself to writing. The evolution, he said, was a natural one.
“West Chester was blooming with art galleries back maybe 10 years ago,” he said. “I was doing a lot of exhibiting locally, as well as in New York. I still had a couple of things in France going on. But I had always been writing. What I decided I needed to do was focus on just my writing, and some filmmaking.”
Walker worked on some short art videos, and over the past six years, he has devoted himself to writing. His first published novel, a thriller titled “The Killing Name,” will be out in the late fall and sold in bookstores and online. “It's about an American private investigator living in Paris whose dream was to become an artist. He works with the most wealthy families of Europe and gets caught up in a Russian prostitution ring in Paris, which takes him throughout France,” Walker explained.
Walker knows Paris well, having spent years visiting and sometimes living there, off and on, with his wife, Brigitte. She is currently a professor at West Chester University in the Foreign Languages and Cultures Department, and also teaches in the Women's and Gender Studies Department.
Walker has another novel finished. It's about an artist in the Brandywine Valley area who gets involved with a serial killer. “I did visit the Philadelphia Homicide Department and they gave me all the information I asked for so I could be more accurate in writing the novel,” Walker said.
For him, blending the arts comes naturally. “Writing and painting are the same thing to me,” he said. “When you're painting and putting a show together, you work in a series and put it together. It all makes sense. Writing is exactly the same thing. You're working with visuals of the story and putting them together in your head. It's just turning visuals into words. For me, writing, filmmaking, painting, and sculpting are always linked.”
After focusing on writing for a prolonged time, Walker is returning to the area art scene with a vengeance in September, when he will have two concurrent exhibitions – a solo show at the Chester County Art Association, and a collaborative show with abstract artist Antonio Puri at the Church Street Gallery. For the collaborative show, he and Puri traded large canvases back and forth, each adding something new, until they had swapped the works four times. Then, they decided, the works would be finished. Stacked in Walkers's sunny front porch studio, the unfinished works display the best of both artists, with Walker's figures and Puri's abstract additions of string and other textural elements.
Walker actually put a toe back into the art world about a year and a half ago with a successful solo show at the Church Street Gallery in West Chester. But building up to this fall's two big exhibitions is another feat altogether.
“Now that I have two novels finished and I have two more in the works, I can put those on a slow burner and get my paintings back out there,” he said.
Walker laughed and admitted that it would be easier for him to paint pretty Chester County landscapes, but his work has always been challenging. The figures in his portraits are smeared, blurred, assaulted by vivid swipes of color. They are confrontational and richly emotional.
“My work is all about understanding our humanity,” Walker said thoughtfully. “That's why I keep going back to the portraits. The most important thing, for me, is to expose the viewer to multiple states of being. It's like a mirror. When viewers are looking at the painting, the more they look at it, the more they're thinking about who they are as people. We, as individuals, are complex. That complexity shows our strengths, our weaknesses, our beauty and our flaws. That's the beauty of being a human being. We're not perfect. We have issues, we have strengths, and we need to embrace that. That's what my art's about.”
For his newly completed works, the colors are vivid, and the scale is large. “For the new series, people are loving the colors,” Walker said. “It's been very positive. They're interested in analyzing what I'm doing, even if they've never seen my work before.”
The first floor of Walker's home in West Chester is a gallery for his new works. They hang in place, sometimes getting a retouch or two, in a constantly evolving exhibition. A room full of them can be almost overwhelming, but Walker's signature style bursts clearly from each one.
“The most important comments that I've gotten from both professional artists and viewers and collectors is that anywhere in the world, if they see my work, they'll recognize it immediately,” Walker said. “They know it's Brett Walker. For all artists who strive to be the best they can be, that's what they're looking for. That voice.
“So it's time to get back on the horse with my painting,” he said, smiling. “And I'm getting ready for a fast ride.”
Brett Anderson Walker will exhibit at the Chester County Art Association (250 N. Bradford Ave., West Chester) from Sept. 8 to 29, with an opening reception on Sept. 8 from 5 to 9 p.m. Visit www.chestercountyarts.org.
Collaborative works by Brett Anderson Walker and Antonio Puri will be shown at the Church Street Gallery (12 S. Church St., West Chester) from Sept. 9 to 30, with a reception on Sept. 9. Call 215-989-1449 or visit www.churchstreetgallerywc.com.
To contact Staff Writer John
Chambless, email firstname.lastname@example.org.