The Story of a Visual Artist: Rusty Walker b.1946-:
Walker has traveled all over the world in his youth and continued traveling for his painting subjects for many years. Born in a small town south of Chicago, Danville, Illinois, he subsequently lived in Texas, Okinawa, South Carolina, Australia, Nebraska, California, and now Arizona.
Inspiration to become an artist
Walker's commitment to being an artist began when, at thirteen years of age, in a stop over in San Francisco on the way to Okinawa in 1959, he witnessed an artist painting on location and was forever fascinated. Walker states that, “I often wonder who that artist was. It may have been George Post. From that time on I was determined to be a full-time painter, committed to translating my visual experiences into art.”
"I am inspired by a compulsion to paint, as a means to express the visual world in the somewhat optimistic way in which I see it. Although I am a hopeless romantic, rather than paint a fanciful or period type genre, I prefer subjects, that are real in today's world. The days of the female form, with long flowing white dresses by flowers, or while on the beach, belong to Sorollo and Sargent. I also don't see a cynical world. I see a world full of the character and potential beauty that is ignored enough to justify painting it for humanity."
Although in the past, Walker has been best known for his watercolors and the book, Transparent Watercolor, today he spends even more time painting in oils. "I moved more and more into oils as a medium due to the impasto I am looking for and the sometimes larger than life quality that oil permits. Most of my early work was oil on location." He describes his style as painterly realism, or subjective realism. "My painting is rather direct. I try to convey as much as possible with each stroke of the brush with minimal over painting." he states, "I rely more on the image sustained in my mind's eye than on any specific reference that I may have sketched or photographed on location. The translation of experience into art takes place for me when I can capture a quality of spontaneity and simplicity of statement. My wide range of subject matter is due to my interest in reflecting the world around me." He is, he describes, merely attempting "to convey the impression of timeless truths, whether it be a pure landscape, or nude, I have the same passion that I bring to the subject matter."
Walker admires those artists who stay true to their convictions. For example, "since the 70s, I have followed the work of such painters as Walt Gonske, Rod Goebel (his life sadly cut short) and my friend, Frank La Lumia, Plein Air Painting in Watercolor and Oil, Northlight Publications. I remain impressed that they never swerved from their original commitment to reflect the world on their own terms." Walker states with regard to this, "There exists no ultimate criteria for masterful works of art for the lifelong artist. For this reason I avoid reading critics of art. Each artist must develop according to unwritten, uncharted destinies that in the end prove to be true, sincere, and one hopes, unique visions of art for posterity. Although we may depend on sales to survive, quite unique in the world of the marketplace, painting with an eye towards the market is not for the true artist. One must paint from the depth of the soul."
Walker's mother is Australian, and was a WWII war bride, and so when Walker’s father retired from the military in 1962, the family sojourned in Australia and Rusty spent the next four years going to art college. He painted watercolors and oil landscapes of the indigenous ghost gums on location in Australia. “I sketched the laughing kookaburras outside my window. I painted in the Botanical Gardens across from the college and endured the alarming charge of black swans and swooping magpies, with their sour dispositions, one encounters along the Brisbane River.”
From his time in Australia and even now, he combined his passion for the visual arts and music. The four years of his undergraduate work was also spent playing in music bands up and down the Gold Coast with his guitar and blues harmonica, going to school and hanging out with local musicians, including one of the Bee Gees. He subsequently graduated from the Queensland Institute of Technology (now the Queensland University of Technology) in Brisbane, Australia, and later followed by graduate studies in the United States. However, Walker cites his real education in art was from the artists he met along the way. His mentor-friendship with California Watercolorists Millard Sheets and Donald Teague, as well as Jade Fon, influenced his early development. The masters he most admires are John Singer Sargent, Joaquin Sorolla, as well as the American, California, and French Impressionists, and the early Taos Artists.
Artist in the Military
Walker was an Artist/Illustrator for the Strategic Air Command Headquarters (SAC) at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, 1967-1971. “This was during the Viet Nam war and it was surreal to play music as a musician in the evening, and after a gig go sleep for a few hours, and then put on a Class A uniform, go to work at SAC headquarters at 3AM, in crazy Nebraska weather. I started out as the director/illustrator at Data Systems Center, but shortly thereafter transferred down seven floors under ground to work in a vault on top secret illustrations. I would come in at 3AM to draw and paint top secret charts, graphs, text, and artist’s interpretations. The work consisted of various reconnaissance and war activity in Southeast Asia for the the captain to deliver 9AM sharp to the admirals and general staff who were conducting the SAC B52 bomber components of the undeclared war. The general staff included Fighter General Joseph J. Nazarro, and in 1968, Bomber General Bruce K. Holloway. The briefings concerned sorties over various targets, SAM and MiG activity, and other top secret reconnaissance and information, now declassified. I held a top secret, "R" prefix, "need to know" clearance. Great experience. By the time I was honorably discharged from the Air Force January 1971, I was ready to do nothing but paint. So, I started at the bottom. Street artist. I even sold my work door to door at times.”
San Francisco Street artist 1971-1974:
Walker began his fine art career in January 1971 by painting watercolors and large oils all on location (Plein Air) in and around the San Francisco Bay Area, Monterey, and the north coast. Rusty Walker and his friends Werner Jurgens and Dale Axelrod, all successful artists now, were among the first fine artists selling their art on the street in San Francisco. This was frowned on by the authorities, who sometimes let them continue and sometimes not, until Walker’s artist-friend Dale Axelrod coordinated two ballot initiatives in the early 1970's allowing street artists to become licensed and operate legally in San Francisco and show their work, or play music, without police or merchant harassment.
Walker relates this memory, “The only talent I remember on the street besides us in 1971 was Robert Shields, the mime, who later became famous with Shields and Yarnell TV series. The painters I encountered on the streets of San Francisco were Jade Fon, Ken Potter and George Post. But, see, they just painted on location, being successful their work was in galleries. Dale, Werner and I actually braved the police by marketing our work on the streets, just like they did in Paris at the turn of the century. I set up outside the Ghiardelli square, Union Square, The Cannery, sometimes next to the human jukebox, Grimes Poznikov. One policeman let me continue when he saw my work. He said, ‘Don't tell anyone I let you stay out here – the merchants don’t like it, but your work looks professional, so you can stay unless I get a complaint.’ We saw nothing wrong with painting on location and then trying to sell our work. It was an artist trying to make a living in the city, 1971-1974. By 1975 I was in galleries, but Dale had gone on to secure permits. The same permits that now protect the hundreds of street artists out there on Fisherman's Wharf today. So, I unabashedly admit I started at the bottom as a street artist.”
Gallery artist, awards, one man shows and museums
From 1971 to 1985 Walker was a full-time artist, and later in Arizona until 1989, supporting his wife, daughters, Melody and Courtney, and son, Hunter, on his art. By the mid seventies his work was taking off and he was having sell out shows, becoming nationally known, winning awards at the American Watercolor Society and National Watercolor Society and exhibiting his oils and watercolors nationally in museums and galleries.
His early work was mostly on-location California scenes, including San Francisco cityscapes, and the unique concept he came up with called, "Hillsides," one of which is in the collection of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. In the 1979 he discovered Taos and the Native American culture of four corners. I started painting the Pueblo Indians and Navajos that I met on location and at the Native American Ceremonies, like the dramatic Deer Dance, and the haunting Turtle Dance. All my mature life I have been a student of history, and so I have a high regard for the Native American culture.
This subsequent success allowed he and his family to travel to Mexico, Europe and Morocco to expand his painting concepts. Walker has many location stories to relate, such as being surrounded by Berbers in Morocco, the risks of painting on steep slopes, in train yards and shipping docks, and painting in inclement weather. He documented much of this and the paintings of this era into book form and sent it to Northlight Publishers/Writer’s Digest. The book, Transparent Watercolor, Northlight Publishers, was published he moved his family to Chandler, Arizona in 1985. Currently, his work reflects many of these same concepts that are from his own experiences.
Teaching and Art Education
While still an active painter, Walker began teaching workshops for Hewitt Painting Seminars, and Jade Fon Asilomar workshops and various art associations. This passion for teaching eventually led to full time teaching, then Director of Education, and Vice President/ Provost at what is now, Collins College in Tempe, Arizona. In 2007 Arizona Governor Napolitano appointed him a Commissioner on the Arizona Commission for Post Secondary Education. However, at 61 years of age, he retired from the education world for good and returned to his first passion of full time painting in October 2007.
Full time artist
Walker is currently a full time artist and is working on paintings from his world trips that feature the wide range of subjects that he prefers to paint: figures; animals, in particular, horses, cats and dogs; landscapes; portraits; boat scenes and seascapes; nightscapes, all ranging from European to concepts throughout the United States.
Walker's biographical information has been listed in Who's Who in American Art since 1980, Excerpt follows:
Some of the awards and honors that he has attained include the following: American Watercolor Society, Emily Lowe Award, 1977; National Watercolor Society Traveling Show; Art and the Law, national exhibition, 1983, West Publishing company, and illustration in Encyclopedia of American Law; Leslie Levy Publishers: Posters.
Permanent Collections: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, S.F. CA: 30x22 watercolor vertical: San Francisco Hillside Painting; Frye Museum, Seattle, WA, California collections:
Author, Transparent Watercolor, Writer’s Digest, 1985; Featured publications: in Southwest Art magazine, July,1980, American Artist, magazine, October 1980. Publication, the book: Contemporary American Artists, Southwest Artist publishers.
Accepted artist at the 2008 American Juried Art Salon, exhibition at the Front Line Gallery and Gallery Notes: News of The Visual Arts. Member of the Oil Painters of America and the Portrait Society of America..
Medium: Oils and Watercolors.
Some noteworthy oil painting collections: President Gerald R. Ford collections; Betty Ford Treatment Center, Alta Bates Hospital; portrait of past president, Robert Montgomery. Bart Starr, former quarterback for Green Bay Packers; Dr. Jan Rosenquist, Midnight Mustangs.