It is quite a week at the University of Alabama. Thanks to my colleague Stacy Morgan, last night, I was one of several professors who had the privilege to dine with artist Larry Walker, father of artist Kara Walker.
And tonight, the elder Walker spoke on campus as part of the Paul R. Jones Lecture Series. I appreciated his subtlety and not so subtle ways of addressing so many issues including the many things figuring into what it means to be human (like aging and having empathy). Present and past societal issues also figure into his work. He began by mentioning his influences, among them Picasso, Rembrandt, Alberto Burri and Romare Bearden. Then, we looked at more than sixty of his pieces that were representative of his growth as an artist.
This Georgia State University Professor of Art Emeritus was born in Franklin, Georgia, but raised in New York. He has also lived in Detroit and New York. He resides in greater Atlanta.I hope our paths cross again. I told him about For Keeps, an Atlanta book store I want to visit while spending a girls’ weekend with a colleague in Georgia.
I was so happy to see several students from my “American Civilization Since 1865” class take me up on an extra credit opportunity by making ties between Walker’s lecture and course content. One student wrote: While listening to Larry Walker, I was struck by the image he showed concerning the children of society…[I]n the painting, there is a line that represents a barrier that cannot be crossed, and all of the people are being pushed together into darkness. It reminds me of the women’s movement [during the early twentieth century…It was hard for women to be who they want to be and stick up for what they feel is right because society pushed all women into a category of expectations that women should fulfill. Women have been trying to cross that line or barrier and get the equality and rights that we deserve, but crossing that line felt almost impossible until the 19th amendment was passed in 1920.
Another student wrote: While listening to Larry Walker, I was struck by the image he showed concerning his wall series, specifically his piece called “No Park”. Indeed, in seeing this image, I was reminded of the Jim Crow Laws, which we learned in class. He pushed my thinking about this issue because of the simplicity of a small sign and its affect it has on other people. Something as simple and two words, which apply to everyone, could help determine actions. Like this, with the Jim Crowe Laws, there began to be signs specifying who could and could not enter a particular establishment, such as which restaurants, bathrooms, schools, etc. were strictly “black or white” and how these laws limited the rights of people of color.
And another wrote: While listening to Larry Walker, I was struck by what he said concerning the piece by Charles White. The piece was a drawing of a mother holding her baby. The faces and skins were done with charcoal …Walker mentions how it represents the positive areas merging out of the negative areas. Indeed, in listening to him, I was reminded of the Reconstruction Era…because …there were numerous changes…For instance, the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments ……[were] laws allowing new rights for former slaves…merging out of the negative areas (injustices and lack of rights/opportunities for former slaves).
One of my favorites: While listening to Larry Walker, I was struck by the image he showed concerning his early Wall Series. Indeed, in seeing this image, I was reminded of the Harlem Renaissance. He … grew up in Harlem and he told us that he went back to Harlem while in school to research and study the area…[This] reminded me of what we learned in class. [T]here were many artists and people who were drawn to Harlem to increase their creativity. [It] pushed my thinking because I did not realize that even after the Harlem Renaissance many people still used Harlem to advance their artistic or cultural ideas.