Kelley Walker (b. 1969)
Kelley Walker (b. 1969)


Kelley Walker (b. 1969)
four-color process silkscreen with acrylic ink on canvas
96 x 2½ in. (243.8 x 6.4 cm.)
Painted in 2011.
Courtesy of the artist and Paula Cooper Gallery


Since 2000, Kelley Walker has established himself as a leading figure on the contemporary art scene. His works take their point of departure in imagery pulled from the mass media and the public domain, re-appropriating it in ways that simultaneously evoke recycling and excess.

For his first exhibition at Paula Cooper Gallery in 2003, Walker presented large, flat steel sculptures with various scanned images attached as surfaces. The sculptures depicted the well-known recycling symbol of three arrows comprising a circle, or they had the design laser cutout to comprise its "negative" appearance. "The recycling sign," as former Artforum editor-in-chief Tim Griffin has noted, "also points towards the slippery networks of distribution and circulation to which Walker's work in general is both addressed and aspires, particularly when it comes to the ubiquity of visual imagery in our culture."1

Other works by Walker engage more specifically with the type and content ofthe information disseminated. In nine disasters (Florida City; Maui; Moran; San Fernando Vallery; Anchorage; Kobe; Elba; Los Angeles; TWA Flight 800) (2002), the artist selected sensationalist imagery of accidents and disasters, a spin on Andy Warhol's Death and Disaster series from the 1960s. Yet Walker has all but obscured the legibility of the nine prints, blanketing them with a dense pattern of multi-colored dots of almost cartoon-like brightness. This camouflage can be seen to function as a visual shield against incessant reproducibility and further indexes the digital dissemination of most imagery today, in which visual information is often lost due to compression and pixelation.

Walker also makes use of readily-available consumer products to "deface" photojournalistic imagery, including toothpaste and chocolate (dark, milk, and white) smeared expressively across Civil Rights-era imagery. Harking back to Robert Rauschenberg's famous combines, these silkscreened collages reflect Walker's engagement with recent American history and in particular the racial oppression of his native South--the artist was born in Columbus, Georgia, in 1969 and grew up in Tennessee.

Tim Griffin has further commented on Walker's approach to art making and appropriation: "While current technology provides a context and even a structure for Walker's practice (where perpetual reproduction occurs within an ever-expanding network), his approach nevertheless demands comparison with art-historical models of appropriation--and, in turn, some consideration of the recent evolution of the very commercial sphere from which many of his images are drawn."2

In Untitled (2011), Walker has silkscreened various imagery onto a tall, narrow canvas, which appears like a frail column or even a Barnett Newman "zip"--the thin, vertical lines that characterized the late painter's oeuvre. The work forms part of a recent series of brick paintings by the artist, in which images from a distance take on the appearance of building blocks, in turn reinforcing the architectural appearance of the canvas. Critic Johanna Burton elaborates:

"Walker's brick...paintingshave too often been described only in formal terms rather than in contextual ones. It's true, of course, that even the formal aspects of these works (the 'body' of the bricks) are themselves indexes of a sort: the images come from scans of the objects and are used simultaneously to empty out and fill the canvases they occupy. In this way, they render the compositions ordered, seemingly minimal, though all the while gesturing towards weight, heft, blockage. But when it comes to the matter of context for such worksthere is always the accompanying 'mortar,' the textual and imagistic stuff harvested by Walker from various magazines and newspapers from particular times, which lace through his compositions. Spread over his canvases, these contents seem to peek out from behind the bricks even while their materials, in fact, are cutouts adhered on the surface of his canvases."3

1Tim Griffin, "Please Recycle: Tim Griffin on the art of Kelley Walker," Artforum (April 2005), p. 151.
3 Johanna Burton, "Bringing it back alive," Parkett 87 (2010), p. 68.