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NEW YORK — THERE’S A FRAMED BOX on the wall outside Sikkema Jenkins that announces the gallery’s exhibitions. Currently, it says “Larry Walker.” The Georgia-born artist is in the sunset of his career and the solo show presents a selection of his works on paper and mixed media works on wood created over a half a century.

While Larry Walker is exhibiting at the gallery for the first time, another Walker has been represented by Sikkema Jenkins since 1994—his daughter, Kara Walker. The younger Walker curated the survey show. Over the years, her father has created multiple series of work in a variety of styles, from landscapes and abstracts to figurative works, including a 1990 self-portrait from his Blindfold Series.

When you enter the gallery, the first work you encounter is “Listen (to da beat),” a 2008 mixed-media diptych on wood panel. A corded microphone hangs between the gap in the panels and hovers above a small sandbox. The work is from the artist’s Wall Series, which examines urban blight and human resistance, according to the gallery.

Beyond, in the main and rear galleries, the drawings and paintings dating back to 1967 are hung in linear succession along the white walls, the larger mixed-media works on wood—more recent, more graphic, more abstract, more bold in terms of color and subject—anchor the presentation.

How did the exhibition come about? The genesis was a milestone birthday gift. “Part of the 80th birthday present was hiring an archivist to help collate my dad’s work. It seemed like a nice idea to see if we could organize a show,” Kara told the New York Times.

“Part of the 80th birthday present was hiring an archivist to help collate my dad’s work. It seemed like a nice idea to see if we could organize a show.” — Kara Walker, New York Times

In his first article for the Times, Antwaun Sargent spoke to the father and daughter at Sikkema Jenkins surrounded by the 38 works in the exhibition.

Larry added: “Interestingly enough, [Kara] came up with this idea. From her perspective, she could see the relationship between this series and that series and how one influenced the other. When she started making the selections of the pieces… I became convinced there were relationships that I had not seen. She had lived with some of them hanging on the walls in the house growing up.”

 

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LARRY WALKER, Installation view, with “Listen (to da beat), Wall Series (extension with wall spirits),” at left. | Courtesy Sikkema Jenkins

 

GROWING UP, Kara’s was greatly influenced by her father. In 1941, his family migrated from Georgia to New York, where he came of age on 145th Street. He graduated from what is now the Fiorello H. LaGuardia School of the Arts, and went on to earn a B.S. in art education and M.A. in drawing and painting, both from Wayne State University. A career educator, Larry taught art in the public schools in Detroit, and was an art professor and administrator at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif., where Kara was born.

Throughout her childhood, she watched her father working in the garage which served as his studio. She joined him making art from a very young age. When Kara was entering high school, her father moved the family (including her mother, older brother and sister) to Atlanta, where he accepted an appointment as director of the School of Art and Design at Georgia State University.

Coming from California, it was a whole new world for Kara. Teenage years are an awkward time when one searches for a sense of self and identity. Hers were further complicated by the realities of the American South, issues of race and its history, which would later figure prominently in her work.

Throughout his teaching years and since he retired in 2000, Larry has maintained his practice with marked success. He has been the subject of more than 40 solo exhibitions, featured in countless group exhibitions, and his work is in the collections of major museums, including the High Museum in Atlanta, Studio Museum in Harlem, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia. He is represented by Mason Fine Art Gallery in Atlanta.

 

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LARRY WALKER, “Children of Society 1, Children of Society Series,” 1967 (pencil on paper.) | Courtesy Sikkema Jenkins

 

THE SIKKEMA JENKINS EXHIBITION, follows another father-daughter collaboration. In 2014, the Walkers participated in an oral history project for BOMB magazine. The lengthy conversation was wide-ranging and very exploratory.

Both artists discussed family life, the teacher-student dynamic, and their work and careers in detail. Kara, who has taught for years at Columbia University and last year was named to a five-year term at Rutgers University as Tepper Chair in Visual Arts at the Mason Gross School of the Arts, recalled how her father’s example helped chart her path. Larry recounted his decision to change his college major from fine arts to art education; talked about the challenges of being an artist in Stockton and Atlanta, rather than Los Angeles or New York; and explained the concepts behind his various series of work.

The earliest works in the exhibition are from his 1960s Children of Society Series. The artist’s Remnant Series is made up of acrylic abstracts with collaged remnants of paper. When Larry started painting again in Atlanta, he continued the Figurative Series he had originated in California. That work evolved into the Blindfold Series, a response to learning he had glaucoma.

“Contemplating the notion that I might go blind at some point in time, I started doing these figures that had blindfolds on. In another series, I did figures that had no eyes,” Larry said in the BOMB conversation.

“I had also started the Wall Series before I had left Stockton. In Atlanta I started using panels and worked in diptychs. The materials started to shift to something a little bit more durable. Heavier materials. Wood. Metal attached to the panels.”

He also talked about how one of his series shifted direction during a significant time in his life:

“When I came back from that 1982 New York trip, the Remnant Series evolved and took on a different attitude and format, with the introduction of a brick pattern, textured surfaces, and collage elements. The paintings became simulated wall surfaces with graffiti marks, collaged posters, peeling paint, and other textures often seen or experienced on urban walls. One of the early paintings in this Wall Series included a deteriorating drawing with an image of my mom, who passed away later that year. Back in those days it was not unusual for me to get the painting started, to get the brick texture set up. Then have kids in the neighborhood scratch names and whatever they wanted to in the brick pattern.”

READ Kara Walker and Larry Walker’s conversation in BOMB magazine.

 

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LARRY WALKER, Installation view, with “Other Voices – Other Spaces: Urban Spirits, Wall Series,” at left. | Courtesy Sikkema Jenkins

 

THE ELDER WALKER’S latest exhibition is bound to bring even wider critical attention to his work, thanks to the imprimatur of his daughter.

In 2007, Brent Sikkema told the New Yorker: “I call the gallery the house that Kara built,” He convinced her to sign up with him when he was still operating out of his apartment. In the 20 years since, the gallery has established a base in Chelsea and assembled a diverse roster of notable talent that includes William Cordova, Leonardo Drew, Leslie Hewitt, Sheila Hicks, Jennie C. Jones, Vic Muniz, Amy Sillman, and Jennifer Packer, who joined Sikkema Jenkins earlier this year.

Meanwhile, Kara has become one of the most critically recognized and lauded contemporary artists of her generation.

It’s a remarkable moment, when one considers the history of African American artists. Under-appreciation persisted throughout the 20th century. Over the past decade or so, some museums and collectors have turned their attention to work by African American artists, playing catch up. For the rare few, gallery representation is opening up, too. All of which dictates opportunities and values. Progress has been made, but for black artists, the uphill battle continues and parity remains elusive for women artists, particularly black female artists. In this regard, Kara is a unique quantity.

With his life’s work on the walls that she helped erect, her father must be proud.

“Some people say that you are born with creativity or that you are born an artist. I’m not sure I buy into that. I’m not sure it is a gene-related thing. I’m not convinced that is it. It may be part of it but the real thing has to do with exposure, opportunity, the kind of environment one grows up in, and the kind of encouragement one gets from teachers, parents, etcetera. It all plays a role in what happens down the road and you don’t know where the creativity is going to go,” Larry said in BOMB.

“Creativity plays a major role in learning to solve problems, generating new ideas, and using the imagination to make things happen and to create opportunities for other things to happen. That has all been very exciting. To see that happen in the context of my family has been marvelous…” CT

 

Larry Walker’s work is on view at Sikkema Jenkins in New York (June 9-July 15, 2016).

 

TOP IMAGE: LARRY WALKER, “Other Voices – Other Spaces: Urban Spirits, Wall Series,” 2007 (acrylic and mixed media on canvas). | Courtesy Sikkema Jenkins

 

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LARRY WALKER, “Study from Nursing Home,” c. 1987 (charcoal on paper). | Courtesy Sikkema Jenkins

 

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LARRY WALKER, “Secret # II, Wall Series (extension),” 2008 (acrylic and latex on board, rope, slave shackle). | Courtesy Sikkema Jenkins

 

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LARRY WALKER, “Children of Society 1, Children of Society Series,” 1967 (pencil on paper). | Courtesy Sikkema Jenkins

 

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LARRY WALKER, Installation view with “Secret # V (with Spirit Voices and W’s), Wall Series (extension),” 2009 (acrylic, latex, stucco mix on birch ply with rope, chain, Georgia granite). at left. | Courtesy Sikkema Jenkins

 

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LARRY WALKER, “Gist Enigma,” 2006 (charcoal, conté crayon, and acrylic products on paper). | Courtesy Sikkema Jenkins

 

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LARRY WALKER, “Listen (to da beat), Wall Series (extension with wall spirits),” 2008 (mixed media on board, microphone and sandbox). | Courtesy Sikkema Jenkins