Antiguan Master Frank Walter Is a Revelation at ADAA


[Many thanks to Veerle Poupeye for bringing this item to our attention.] Jerry Saltz reviews the work of Antiguan artist Frank Walter at the 2018 ADAA Art Show, which opened on February 28 and will continue through March 4, 2018 (at the Park Avenue Armory, Park Avenue at 67th Street, New York City). More than a review of his work, Saltz offers a wonderfully written and gripping exploration of the artist, his trajectory, and his context—made all the more difficult by the legacy of slavery, colonialism, and its aftereffects. Here are excerpts from Vulture:

Behold the artist Frank Walter at the booth of Hirschl & Adler Modern at the wonderful 2018 ADAA Art Show. Walter was born in Antigua in 1929, a “very dark-skinned” descendant of a white slave owner and a black slave. He struggled his whole life with his racial identity and was the first black child in a special all-white Antiguan school where he mastered and excelled at Latin, French, English literature, algebra, geometry, chemistry, botany, geography, history, art, and music. By 1948, as labor unions were transforming slave conditions on sugar plantations, he was the “first” black manager of a major plantation. He called himself a “Europoid” — his term for a race of transplanted colonial Europeans — and said he was “sun-kissed.” The poetry of these terms is still powerful, even as — or perhaps because — we can now see that by using them he meant to signal that he thought of himself as white.

In 1953, Walter and the love of his life Eileen Galway set sail to London for a planned ten-year European Grand Tour: nothing but love, ambition, and promise was on the horizon. Yet by the time he died, in 2009, he had spent the last two decades of his life living alone, dirt-poor, in a shack without running water, electricity, or access to roads, on the side of an Antigua mountain. Here, rocketing between brilliant insight, wild imagination, full-on hallucination, and fits of delusional grandeur he produced an epic series of almost entirely unseen work — including a 25,000-page typed manuscript on philosophy, history, art, geology, and biology; numerous plays, poems, musical scores; and hundreds of hours of recorded audiotape. He also made over 5,000 sculptures, paintings, drawings, diagrams, cosmic charts, and heraldry designs on cardboard, wood panels, old photos, the backs of album covers, paper bags, planks, metal signs, and any surface he could scavenge. (All of this would likely have been lost were it not for art historian Barbara Paca happening upon his work in Antigua at the very end of Walter’s life, and seeing genius. In 2017, Paca oversaw Walter being named the representative of Antigua and Barbuda at the Venice Biennale.) [. . .]

[. . .] In 1967, he returned to Antigua, broken, and cobbled together a life. He wrote that he was now “able to change my natural color to White … [to] lead one to believe that one had seen a White person.” As Frantz Fanon wrote, “Incapable of integrating, incapable of going unnoticed, [the black person] starts conversing with the dead and the absent.” That’s Walter. In 1995, however, providence moved one last time and shined a light on him. He found an abandoned shack on the quiet side of the island, settled in it, and finally immersed himself in his writing, composing, and his art. In 2009, he died there after a short illness. What he left behind suggests that he is among the great visionaries of the late-20th and early 21st centuries. [. . .]

[Image above: “Cruise Ship,” oil on photographic paper. Photo: Frank Walter.]

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