todd kosharek on travis walker
Another guest post! This time from painter Todd Kosharek writing about new work by Travis Walker, on display at Cowboy Coffee September 7 – 21. I’m thrilled to add new voices and viewpoints to Culture Front. (Hint: let me know if you want to write about something…email@example.com)
When I was asked to write about Travis Walker, I was excited to look past all of his accomplishments in promoting arts in Jackson – from creating Teton Art Lab, Factory Studios, The Caldera Festival, and now Big Haus Studios (which are well worth all the articles that are written) – and focus on his work as an artist.
This is not easy to do.
I went first to the show hung at Cowboy Coffee. I walked in to a show of 17 prints, only six of which are Walker’s. His work is almost always surrounded by other’s work, others who are a part of his studio networks. It is hard for me to visualize a Walker print in my mind with out also seeing a piece by Aaron Wallis or Wendell Field. This does not diminish his work, nor any of theirs, not at all, but it does diminish my attempt to separate him from his peers. This group mentality is something that has happened numerous times in art history. The Group of Seven did it in Canada in the early twentieth century, while The Group of Ten did it here in America at the same time. There is much to be said about a collection of artists working, critiquing, and promoting within one group. It can, however, become limiting if an artist cannot be separated from the group to stand on his or her own. I looked around the café at works I have seen from Walker before, works that I have already taken in and admired. I also looked at the works of Wallis and Field as well as Ben Roth, Peter McCullogh, Scotty Craighead and Mark Dunstan. Their work showcased the vast growth of printmaking in this valley since Walker co-founded Teton Art Lab. Walker’s work, however, seemed to get lost in the mix.
I left Cowboy Coffee and walked over to Big Haus Studios to see if I could talk to Walker and see if the new paintings for the exhibit opening this Friday were available for viewing. I entered Big Haus and went to where the map on the wall indicated Walker’s studio was. I rounded the corner to the top floor and was met by numerous paintings by Walker, leaning against walls. I felt like an invader, like someone finding a journal and reading regardless of the fact he knew it was private. I also felt like someone coming across a cave, going in and finding crystals everywhere. The paintings leaning in different locations around the richly lit top floor comprised the best work I had ever seen from Walker. As a painter myself – one who knows how competitive we painters can be – it pains me to say, it is some of the best work I have ever seen in this valley.
Walker has taken an iconic image of freedom, the RV trailer, the home-away-from-home that has only the limitation of the road, and with it he has created a much more nuanced and richly symbolic part of his work. The first piece I saw was of a RV floating out at sea off the edge of a harsh, sharp cliff. It is a painting of what could appear as tragedy. But it is not. This is not a literal image. It is symbolic. It has a feeling of freedom, of leaving even the restraints of the road and moving beyond, out further, onto the water of the unending oceans. This image of the home-away-from-home that can go anywhere now literally is going anywhere.
Another painting was of a RV coming into a bay with numerous Indian tepees standing on the rugged shorelines. In this image, the RV has not only floated on past the constraints of its original purpose, to drive the roads of this country, but now has gone past the limitations of time. It has entered the idealization of the past, something that is celebrated by many painters whose work hangs in galleries in this town. The idealized past is not celebrated, per se, in Walker’s painting, but instead simply recognized. Walker is admitting that the past is however we see it, and if most come to Jackson to glorify a past that never really existed, so be it. That does not mean, though, that Walker is not going to recognize this and showcase it in a painting as luminescent as any painting in town that celebrates this glamorized past.
These two paintings are only a few of the 10 to 15 paintings that will hang at Cowboy Coffee, September 7-21. The opening reception is Friday, September 7, 5-7 p.m. I look forward to spending more time with all his new paintings, and giving them the time they deserve. Walker will always be associated with his accomplishments as a promoter. Walking around the incredible space that is Big Haus, with its wonderful maze of studios, this is no mere accomplishment. Walker’s new paintings, though, will cement him firmly in another category as well: as one of the most inventive and intuitive artists we have in this valley.
- Todd Kosharek