John Walker: In Conversation

John Walker, Looking Out to Sea II, 2012, oil on canvas, 84 x 66 inches (courtes
John Walker, Looking Out to Sea II, 2012, oil on canvas, 84 x 66 inches (courtesy of the artist)

Jennifer Samet interviews painter John Walker about his work and career.

Walker recounts a formative experience: "As a young man, I had gone to Amsterdam to look at Van Gogh, actually. I saw the Rembrandts, including the painting that is still the most important painting to me — 'The Jewish Bride.' It just touched me so. It is truly one of the great romantic paintings in the world. I came out from the Rembrandt painting, and then I went to the Stedelijk. I’d been trained at that point just in figurative art. For the four years previously, I’d been in a life room. And I saw this painting, a white square on a white square. I didn’t know what it was, but I got the same emotional take that I got from the Rembrandt. It blew me away, took me off balance. I turned away, came back. I had no way of dealing with it intellectually. I’d never been faced with avant-garde art. I didn’t do anything about it. But several years later, I read that Malevich, when asked what his ambition was for painting, said it was to imbue the square with feeling. Well, that’s what Rembrandt did. So the connection was immediate. Then I didn’t have this problem of why I liked Rembrandt and why I liked certain contemporary art, why I grew to like Jackson Pollock. That is what they were doing: they were imbuing the square with feeling. I’d never read that, never heard of that, but it seemed to be right on."