Interview w/ David Walker


Written by Dan Haze
24 Friday 24th November 2017


Street artist David Walker has been working consistently over the last decade, travelling around the world creating vast, vivid murals. His seminal use of colour has earned him legions of fans, countless exhibitions, commissions and copycats.

We meet the opening night of his latest exhibition ‘Half a World Passed Me By’ downstairs at the Lawrence Alkin Gallery as preparations are made above our heads. It's been over three years since his last solo show in the UK and a lot has changed; he’s quit smoking and drinking, traded the streets for a studio and begun to do something that fills me with panic, examining life and thinking about where it's going. He’s also recently turned forty and his maturation is multi faceted, you see it in his medium, his space and his words.

What was the inspiration behind the name of the exhibition ‘Half a world passed me by’?

It comes from some of the text work and my writing, its open to interpretation but there's is two links to myself. I'm completely blind in my right eye, so it's kind of a personal in joke with myself. Also rather more tragically I turned 40 last year so it's also this idea of time passing and it's not a negative idea more I think as you get older and mature you realise that time is limited and you can only do so much and you have to do what you're supposed to be doing. It's more empowering than anything.


As mentioned the exhibition is named Half a World Passed Me By, do you feel like you missed out on something? Or been able to focus on something else?

Physically I’ve missed out. No I don't feel like I’ve missed it in a real sense, it's more of a fact I guess. Im sure that most people don't think about what they're are doing on a day to day basis. I think spending time reflecting on what you've done.


What are the main differences between working outside of inside?

It feel very different you get some real adrenaline because time is such a big factor, you have to make it happen. You have to deliver in a short period of time and everybody's watching you do it . bUt i like the immediacy of that and you also have to except after X amount of days that you can’t add anything more to it. You also have a responsibility to everyone in the area to make it the best I can. It always surprises me how you can create something on such a large scale in such a short amount of time but you can spend two months on a metre by metre canvas and still feel like it's not finished. There's a strange contrast between the two.


I ponder thats its a blessing and a curse to be able to walk away. He compares it to recording an album and playing live; they both have different constraints.


How has your process changed from large scale murals to Canvas?

I used to do all my canvas work with spray paint, so it was originally the same process. But I used to use different caps and different techniques. But this is the first show in which I introduced brush stroke as a consistent theme in the work. Now I’m able to do more figurative pieces and smaller scale pieces too. Its allowed me to explore different sizes from 2 metre canvases to really scaled down pieces too.


What caused that change?

I think that with any art practice you start to explore different ideas and techniques. And actually from a health point of view I didn’t want to be using spray paint for the rest of my life. The shift I think is more about breathing a different life into the work, now I can make different marks and gestures and details in different scales it opens the work up.


Do you think this shift is you maturing as an artist?

Yeah I think maturing is a good word, I don’t want to be a 50 year old man using spray paint on the streets. Now I’m starting to experiment with oil paint too, which just makes the process exciting. As an artist the process is yours but the final product is for everyone else.  


How do you think your use of colour has changed?

For the murals I used to use any colour available to me and then just fight with it to see what happens, to try and push colours together that don’t necessarily work and combining things in random ways just to see what happens. Now I’m considering pallets more, working in the studio you have more time to do that compared to mural work.


What inspired your foray into text-based paintings?

I’ve actually been writing for ten years, but I lacked courage and didn’t have an outlook for the work, but it seemed like the right time to start bringing it into my practice. Recently I had some work published in a journal published by Robert Montgomery who has been a massive inspiration to me. It was the first time I’d submitted my work anywhere and just being accepted into this publication was very inspiring to me and pushed the work gave me the push to start showing more text work. Writing almost seemed much more personal, although these are just slicers of text, there's no beginning or end, you can interpret them in different ways


Its interesting, refreshing almost that a celebrated artist still needs a confidence boost.  


Tell me about your collaboration with Yuli Gates

Yuli is a photographer that I’ve worked with in the past and she also modelled for a number of the pieces in the collection. Originally we met whilst I was working on some of the figurative works in the show and she showed me some of her embroidery, and just on the spot after collaborating on the photographs for the zine that we should do some physical pieces and it just worked straight away. I think they're a nice addition to the show. Collaborating is really fulfilling, you're seeing how other people work and get ideas of how they work and getting insights into their processes.  

Your book was titled beautiful chaos, is that how you view your work, life or both?

We both laugh. It was difficult, that book was dual language so was published in both french and english so we were just trying to find something that sounded good in both


Which city has the best street art?

I would say Berlin. I don’t know how would you class as best but it's the most irreverent. I wouldn't say that the graffiti is stylistically best, though I can't judge because I haven't seen it all. Just as a n act graffiti is really prevalent in Berlin, some of its is quite ugly and others a quite beautiful.


With cuts to arts programs and school funding, do you fear for the next generation of artists?

I think one of the best things about street art is that it promotes hands on creativity, making physical pieces of work, but I do worry because drawing is the fundamental behind conceptual art as well as painting. Learning to draw is so important and it opens up so many opportunities not just painting, it translates over to photography and fashion and even music. I know musicians that draw out what they’re going to do before they translate it into music. Handwriting is slowly being phased out, and it would be such a shame if drawing went the same way.

However, as we’ve seen recently artisan processes have become more and more precious. I dont think its a good thing but it's a way to maintain them. I think it'll always be around, humans have a fundamental desire to do, when we were cavemen we were scrawling on walls. I don't think it will go anywhere, but it wouldn't be good if it became a hobby of the elite.


We end our interview by discussing a possible future in which the average Joe and Jane use Ipads and the super rich use paper and pencil.


Walker’s Half a World Passed Me By exhibition runs until the 9th of December at the Lawrence Alkin Gallery.


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