Drawing is one of Steve Walker's earliest childhood memories. He recollects drawing pictures from about the age of three or four years old. Drawing came naturally to the Toronto artist, and his love of the art form continued into his adulthood. As a self-taught artist, Walker only began painting after a trip to Europe when he was 25 years old. During the trip, he spent much of his time in Europe touring the great galleries and museums.
In his words it was the first time he was exposed to great painting, and the first time he recognized the potential power of the art form. "I was moved by something that I was capable of doing," he said. His first paintings were done in a somewhat secretive way, as he had no intention of exhibiting or selling, and had no aspirations of becoming a professional artist.
Producing art about his life and the lives of those around him is as natural to Walker as his first childhood drawings. As a gay man, Walker is acutely aware that he is living during a period of history that is both the best of times and the worst of times. There is more freedom and acceptance for gay men and women, while at the same time AIDS has devastated the gay population.
But Walker's paintings are not about gay people or homosexuality. He describes his art as being about love, hate, pain, joy, touch, communication, beauty, loneliness, attraction, hope, despair, life and death. His art includes universal themes regardless of race, gender, socioeconomic class, culture or sexual orientation. However, his work is unique because he conveys these themes through the subjects in his paintings, young gay men. "Remove the gender of the painting's subjects and what we have is human relationships in general, and one's relationship to the world itself," he said. "As a homosexual I have been moved, educated, and inspired by works that deal with a heterosexual context. Why would I assume that a heterosexual would be incapable of appreciating work that speaks to common themes in life, as seen through my eyes as a gay man? If the heterosexual population is unable to do this, then the loss is theirs, not mine."
If Walker were an abstract painter or a landscape artist, he says his sexual orientation wouldn't matter. But since his paintings are about gay life, his sexual orientation becomes more important than his cultural background, age, or nationality. The focus of his paintings often depicts sadness and loneliness to reflect the reality that much of anyone's life is sad and lonely. Walker often portrays people in relationships as separate entities because that is the way he views them. He also uses a small and consistent palette of colours because he is comfortable with them and the colours provide the desired results. "Colour is very powerful and a little can go a long way if used effectively," he said. "Some colours are very exciting to me, while others are quite offensive. Painting flesh is very exciting because of the huge variations possible within a very small colour range."
Walker's artworks are very large, always measuring 36" by 48". He creates large paintings because he believes that a large image is more appealing than a smaller one. "Whether it's a television screen, cinema screen, or an image in a magazine, the size of the image connotes a degree of importance." Walker said belonging to an oppressed minority group has been a driving force in creating his art. "Any minority wants and needs to find artistic voices that reflect their own personal situations, and, in doing so, validate and record their lives and cultures for themselves, and for the larger world." Walker said he experiences many small rewards during the creative process. "After hours of painting, I stand back and look at something that wasn't there before -- a hand, face, or piece of fabric will exist where there was once a blank canvas."
As an artist, Walker said it's exciting to be working at a point in history where there is an audience ready to appreciate and consume his creations. "It is very rare to find success as an artist in your lifetime. My work will be around long after me, but seeing it affect people at the time that I am creating it is very rewarding."
In recent years Steve Walker's work has been exhibited in galleries in Toronto , Montreal , New York , Philadelphia and Key West . The gay community of North America has responded very positively to Walker 's art. He says, "I am very aware of the appreciation from a group of people who recognize the time, energy and talent devoted to a body of work that speaks specifically to them but at the same time exists in the larger world in which we all live."
Realism, Classicism, Romanticism ... I really do not think too much about what "style" I am painting in. I taught myself, so I guess it is my own style. I'm sure that I have been greatly affected (both positively and negatively, both consciously and subconsciously) by everything my eyes have seen. My mind processes this information into an image, and my right hand creates a painting. I hope that my paintings inspire, entertain, provoke, challenge, and in a small way make this world a more beautiful place to live. I hope that they live on long after all of us."
2009 Gingerbread Square Gallery, Key West