Published on September 5, 2018. Interview by 2018 Summer Intern, Emma Brodeur. Frank Walker is a portrait artist from Charlottesville, Virginia. His work has been shown in numerous exhibitions including a Welcome Gallery exhibit with Jae Jae Johnson in April 2018. He is also a participant in our 2018/2019 Artist Exchange.
Frank Walker is our sixth featured 2018 artist in our third 7x7x7 Series, which asks 7 questions to 7 Charlottesville artists and published once a week for 7 weeks.
1. If you had a free afternoon in Charlottesville what would you do or where would you go?
A free afternoon is unusual for me. I think at this juncture, my afternoon is spent in my studio working until I get hungry at 7:30 or 8 o’clock. If I was to have a free afternoon, I would see an art show somewhere.
2. Describe your artistic work in 7 words.
Fun, truthful, a conversation piece, funny, serious.
3. Who or what inspires your current work?
I can always say this honestly—people inspire my work. People and history and the things people have been through in their lives are most intriguing to me. People, whether they’re living or dead, are truth tellers—whether they say it or not, it’s all there. I think everybody has a story to tell, I think everybody is a teacher of some sort—whether good, bad, or different. You learn something from everyone you meet. People leave you clues.
I read something from a person who died a long time ago who said, “If you really want to change, you have to change the way you look at something, and when you look at something, it changes before you.”
4. Consider one piece you’re working on right now. Give us a snippet of your routine—from start to finish, what goes into making it?
[The piece I’m working on now] was an idea that took me two sketches, some wood staining, and then an entire day of deciding how I was going to proceed to make it. As I started painting, I realized, like most things I work on, it’s like this euphoric high—this is it. You see the idea you had come to life, and then you go—I gotta get this done. I keep looking at it until my brain processes what I’ve done and I come back the next day and finish this little part and change that little thing I don’t like. And then, a week later, I’ll look at it again and say, “eh, I gotta fix that.”
5. What have you learned about yourself as a person through the experience of making art?
I’ve learned that I see things differently. I’m a visual person—I’m driven by my eyes. I can see good in everything, I can see beauty in everything, I can see things that other people would say is no good. Nothing is no good to me. [I’ve learned] art is a feeling and a passion.
I think I’ve become a skilled craftsman in a lot of different mediums. The favorite is just an old standard of using graphite and pencil. But, everything along the way has geared me—and I’ll take this to my grave—is that drawing is the key to everything else. Drawing gets you to the phase of art. Being able to do that and use so many mediums and become a good technician at what I do.
My thought processes don’t lend me to abstract art…yet. I’m working on that. I admire this about Picasso—he was a craftsman like I was, but become the father of modern art by looking at a different dimension.
6. What would you like to see happen in Charlottesville to better support artists in our community?
Being from here, there has never been anything so involved with the arts than it is now. I remember two galleries—one at the university and one somewhere else in town. Now there are several galleries, the arts are in full bloom. When McGuffey opened back up, it was incredible. Now there is almost a gallery on every block.
If there is something missing, it’s African American artists. [Representation] is very important in a society like ours with many cultures.
7. What is currently on your studio/work desk?
A piece entitled The Other Side of the Jar.* A bucket of paintbrushes, a Vlasic pickle jar to wash the brushes, blue painters tape, an easel, and photos. A bottle of soda.
*A new painting based on the jar of soil taken from the site of John Henry James’ lynching and carried to the National Museum for Peace and Justice by the Charlottesville Civil Rights Pilgrimage this summer.
Frank Walker was born in 1953 in Charlottesville, Virginia. He began his education at the Jefferson Elementary School, moved on to Walker Junior High School, St. Emma Military Academy in Powhatan, Virginia, and graduated from Lane High School. College followed at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia where he majored in Painting and Printmaking. After finishing his education, Frank completed a four-year tour in the U.S. Army.
Mr. Walker returned to Charlottesville from the service and was hired in the Division of Art Photography and Television at the University of Virginia Medical Center as a Medical Artist and Graphic Designer. The Medical Center closed this department, bringing an end to his 17-year career at UVA. Frank opened his own business, WALKER’S INK, and was able to capture much of the medical and graphic work that he had produced at the University. Frank has since retired from commercial work and began his journey back to Fine Art in his Fifth Street space.
Walker’s work has been shown in numerous exhibitions including the McGuffey Art Center and The Jefferson School African American Heritage Gallery. His paintings and drawings can be found in numerous private collections. Mr. Walker also has a passion for military history. He maintains an extensive collection of models and figures covering all wars of American history.
Frank is married to Cecelia Walker. He has three children, nine grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.
The opinions expressed in this interview are solely those of the artist and do not necessarily represent the policies or positions of NCAI.