‘I was aware that this type of art was capable of instigating a dialogue. I was intrigued with artists who made works that are able to be re-read and to shift in meaning. I became interested in creating objects capable of perpetually remaking themselves or allowing themselves to be remade by participating in the culture industry’
‘I think of the canvas as having a mimetic relationship not only to the wall the painting might be displayed on, but also to the structure of the bricks and cinder blocks in the urban cityscape of New York. Outside my studio window, I see various ways these buildings materials are used-structurally as well as decoratively, stacked both horizontally and vertically’
From a distance, Kelley Walker’s Untitled (2008) looks like a blank brick wall; peer closer and it comes to life. Conjuring a distinctly urban experience of seeing, Walker scans and screenprints individual bricks over collages of newsprint and magazines. Here he has shuttered Vogue’s Fall/Winter 2009 collections preview behind grids of patinated terracotta. The viewer attempts to visually break through the screen of bricks to decode the pages pasted beneath; while fragments of image and text may be recognisable, the bricks act as both textural foreground and barrier, largely obscuring any communicative significance. Walker slyly sublimates our daily bombardment by contemporary advertising, mimicking the opaque forces and superstructures of meaning that characterise the crowding of modern existence. A visual poetry slips through the cracks, while the bricks themselves – painstakingly, individually applied using the same four-colour process that makes up the printed media we see every day – have their own delicacy in their hand-printed variations of colour and texture, oscillating between representation and abstract pattern. A wall can be both decorative and structural, imprisoning as well as constructive, an obstacle as much as a form of shelter; recasting the canvas’s figure-ground relationship as one of bricks and mortar, Walker opens our eyes to how we’ve built the world around us.
Often grouped with a generation of ‘Neo-appropriationists’ alongside his friend and collaborator Wade Guyton, Walker’s postmodern pictorial strategies reconcile iterative Warholian screenprinting, Jasper Johns’ engagement with the found abstraction of flagstones in the 1960s, and the minimalist structural imperative of the grid. His complexes of erasure and revelation are born from a dialogue with the urban environment: while sharing a sense of effaced graffiti with the oblique palimpsests of Christopher Wool, these ‘brick paintings’ are far more direct in transposing exposed walls into an interior architectural space. Having arrived in New York from Tennessee in the 1990s, Walker brings a particular alertness to his surroundings; he has explained that he ‘think[s] of the canvas as having a mimetic relationship not only to the wall the painting might be displayed on, but also to the structure of the bricks and cinder blocks in the urban cityscape of New York. Outside my studio window, I see various ways these buildings materials are used – structurally as well as decoratively, stacked both horizontally and vertically’ (K. Walker, quoted in B. Nickas, Kelley Walker, exh. cat. MAGASIN Centre National d’Art Contemporain, Grenoble 2008, p. 75). Walker includes such directional variation in Untitled, heightening the sense of human touch in what could be a surface of merciless, mechanistic uniformity. Indeed, the inclusion of printed matter associated with a particular publication date lends an almost archaeological feel to Walker’s layering technique: this is an index of time and substance, a stratum in the creation of our multimedia cityscape captured on the picture plane. Untitled asks that we pause and look beneath the surface, offering a glimpse of stillness in a world saturated with visual information.