I’m writing this after having spent 20 minutes falling down the Google-Image-Search-Rabbit-Hole of one of W. Ralph Walters’ favorite artists, fantasy painter and technique all-star Todd Schorr. Then I went down the Glen Barr rabbit hole… Sexual cartoon rabbit holes!
However, Walters’ art is deserving of its own rabbit hole and you can find it at 400 West Rich. I first met Walters a month or so ago to interview him about the first show he curated, a robot-themed art show at Gallery 831. Walters’ work, which he makes at the Franklinton space’s studio 228 alongside fellow Art Party group members, struck me in its realistic detail. And also its naked aliens.
Walters is a skeptic fascinated with myth. A Skully to the world’s Mulder. It’s not so much that Walters wants to believe, but he is fascinated with what people DO believe and why. The act of believing is so intimate an experience, yet it is something we all share, just like needing food and water. You believe water is over this way. You believe a god that rides a striped, fire-eating pegasus around the sun put it there. Etc. Belief can say so much about us even when it says nothing at all. You believe in God. Yet, I don’t know if that is just because you were raised that way or because you have looked inside yourself and chosen to believe in God.
Learning one’s basic beliefs is like taking the first step down an individual’s rabbit hole.
I love Walters’ work for how surreal and escapist the scenes are in their content; however, they are meticulously researched and are often loaded with hidden visual messages. Religion, extra terrestrials, mole people–anything human beings believe or have believed is fair game for inspiration. The paintings themselves are like ancient relics beckoning with a graceful undead finger to figure out the puzzle. (If you see Walters around while looking at his work, ask him for the secrets. He’s a super nice sage and listening to him tell the story of his work is almost better than looking at it… almost.)
As far as big projects go, Walters is working on a series of goddess of war paintings that he hopes to have slayed by the end of the year. I can not wait to see it and hear more from this talented Columbus voice. I believe!
What kind of art do you make and why?
I really lacked direction as an artist for a very long time until I got a job doing illustration for Paranoia Magazine, a conspiracy theory magazine previously based in Rhode Island, now San Diego. Being a skeptic, I may not have believed some of the content of the articles I illustrated, but the idea that no matter how farfetched an idea may have seemed, that there were dozens, hundreds, maybe thousands of people who believed it intrigued me. What people choose to believe fascinates me. I’m also a fan of Byzantine and Renaissance iconography, so the idea that I could relate a belief I found utterly fascinating through my art intrigued me. That’s really the focus of the majority of my work now — illustrating belief.
What medium and tools do you prefer and why?
I use acrylics because I’m a clumsy bastard. I will invariably stick my forearm in a painting, so if it doesn’t dry quickly, I’m going to muck it up. I do a lot of album art for doom metal bands as well, so I’ve got deadlines that oils wouldn’t suit. I started painting on Masonite because I found out Glenn Barr used it, and I love it so much I rarely paint on anything else.
When do you make art and why?
I’m doing this for a living at present, so if I’m awake, there’s a good chance I’m making art. Between commissions and trying to create art for my own satisfaction, I’m always busy.
Where do you make art?
Mostly at the Art Party Columbus Studio at 400 West Rich. Getting a studio there has been the best thing ever for my output, not just because I have a specific place to go that encourages me to work, but it’s also being around so many creative people. I feed off that energy.
What are your thoughts on the art scene in Columbus, both positive and negative? What needs improvement? What are you looking forward to? Anything in particular about Columbus made it difficult to be an artist here?
It’s weird living in a city that has an art school that doesn’t seem to do anything for the local art scene. It’s tragic, really. This has been a town that caters to “art” that one can match with their furniture, despite there being several astounding artists living in the city, like Alan Reeve, Charles Shipley Wince, Chris Tennant, Cyndi Bellerose, Tona Pearson, Roger Kent Grossweiler Jr., just to name a very, very few. I’ve found that the influx of art groups have started building a proper art scene here, because they’re creating their own opportunities. When you have more than 100 art groups doing this, suddenly, as a fan of art, you have multiple opportunities to see work you might not have otherwise. This is a good time to be an artist in Columbus because the old guard no longer has a stranglehold on what art reaches the public.
What has been inspiring your work lately?
I’m a huge research nerd, and I had the opportunity recently to visit a buddy of mine who’s getting his graduate work done in Toronto. He, his friends (all of whom are Medieval studies students), and I went out drinking one night, and we had the best discussion about syncretic religion, ancient texts, historical fallacies, etc. I’m a very armchair level research nerd, so it’s always inspiring and invigorating to talk to folks who specialize in studying such specific subjects and know far more than I do about all of it. Nothing beats drinking with Medieval studies majors.
What advice that you’ve found invaluable would you give a new artist?
Keep working. Someone will always hate your work (and more often than not, that person will be you). Someone will always be better than you. Instead of taking it personally, consider it all constructive criticism, no matter the level of civility that criticism is delivered. If you want to do this for a living, or if you want to put your work out there for all to see, promote yourself. I’m astonished at the number of folks in this town that’ll have a gallery show they don’t promote. What’s the point in having the show in the first place if no one shows up?
What do you do while you work?
I sing. Apparently, much louder than I thought.
Do you ever experience artist’s block?
Good Zeus, yes. Drives me nuts, because I tend to beat myself up if I’m not constantly working. I bury myself in research, go for walks, watch documentaries, anything to jar that productivity loose. Naps work occasionally as well.
Three artists, living or dead that you would invite to a dinner party:
Let’s see… Todd Schorr, because his technique is unparalleled; Frida Kahlo, because she was the first artist whose work astounded and haunted me enough that I decided I needed to be an artist myself (and because I have a mad crush on her); and Joseph Campbell. Research and the collection of knowledge is no less an art to me, and I could have talked to him for days on end.