This is me at 67 with a tangential magician on a tightrope. Most of   what I've been doing, in various media, and taking seriously, for the last 50 years, could be called tangential. I'm interested in the art of suggestion and in inviting observers to bring their own interpretations to my images. Some are less ambiguous than others but all are created in the spirit of  free improvisation, exploration, the desire to surprise myself and hopefully others, and neither to repeat myself nor get stuck in a rut.

Almost all the pictures on this website were created in soft pastel on black paper. I have specialised in this medium for the last 35 years.

I joined the Pastel Society in 2012 and teach regular weekly and monthly pastel classes and workshops in my studio. 

The works shown here are widely varied in genre, theme and technique, providing a very broad demonstration of just how flexible and versatile this remarkable medium is. Thank you for visiting my gallery.I hope you enjoy the trip!

        These days, it is science rather than art that is comfortable with the idea of imaginative exploration. Whether hurling billions of dollars into space on tragicomic Mars probes or sat at their desks positing n-dimensional superstrings, scientists retain an open-eyed faith in discovery; artists, meanwhile, mainly turn their gaze towards the known world, ironizing the whole notion of strangeness. Yet art's current credibility largely relies on the foolish explorers of the Renaissance and the early twentieth century. The serious quest for wonder is indispensable.

        Tom Walker is an experimenter who has been working at what is effectively the edge of the current art world through the past fifty years. The conditions of his experiments are tightly specified: he has made himself a master of pastels applied to black paper, an exacting and unusual medium to which he has added a whole new repertory of magical effects. Within these controls, he has dedicated himself to the objectives of search and discovery, following the example of mentor figures like Max Ernst and Pavel Tchelitchew. His pictures at their best touch on virgin imaginative territory.

        What does it mean to 'discover' something as an image-maker, rather than merely to cook something up? It means to arrive at an image that you could not have foreseen when you made your first marks, yet one which strikes you as inevitable and necessary once it is present. Walker comes to his sheets of paper with a clutch of strategies; one of the most important in his current work is superimposition. Different translucent systems of form - forest branches, ripples and clouds, compact geometries, pyrotechnic showers of light - interpenetrate and fuse. The direction the image takes is not foreordained: the only predictable trait is the quest for unpredictability. What emerges may have the look (though never the sealed identity) of an Italian townhouse, an embryonic cell, a waterspout over the ocean, even an astronaut adrift in space.

        Such a human presence is relatively marginal in Walker's work, however. His fascination with symbolic structures...results in some haunting images of transmogrified architecture. But for the most part, the intense celestial blues and chilly greens of his pastels evoke a clear, unpolluted space far beyond the cultural and social sphere. Like a few other contemporaries - Vija Celmins with her representations of the universe's great inanimate wastes, Susan Derges with her 'water photographs' of English rivers, even Anselm Kiefer in his astronomical paintings - Walker is keeping open the possibility of awe before the non-human. Or maybe it is simply a business of acknowledging that humanity needs larger reference points than we usually allow for.

        If his career has been on a more isolated track than theirs, it's maybe because he has devoted fifteen years of it to a magnificently unfashionable obsession. Through the late 1980s and the 1990s, much of Walker's art revolved around the work of the great but little-known French organ composer Charles Tournemire (1870-1939), and consequently got most of its exposure at musical events across Europe and America. This prolonged engagement with music - both through responses to the symbolic complexities of Tournemire's imagination, and sometimes through improvisations publicly performed in concert with organists - has left Walker with a keen sense of the specific possibilities of his own medium. Always a scrupulous draughtsman and constructor, he has emerged in the last few years into an empowered artistic freedom, practising an art which communicates optimism and good humour for all its cool uncanniness. In an ideal, upturned art world, why shouldn't the Turner Prize go to this most dedicated contemporary exponent of Turner's natural sublime?

 

Julian Bell - author of 'What is Painting?', studies of the lives and works of Bonnard and Van Gogh, and the magnificent 'Mirror of the World' a history of art through his eyes.

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