Walter’s works, rendered in a somewhat primitive style, which still shows a considered understanding of formal composition, are closely tied to the story of his outlandish, yet fragile personality. Much of his life revolved around the manner in which he navigated his crisis of identity as a black Antiguan partially descended from white slaveholders who he saw as linking him to an aristocratic European heritage. Prodigious from a young age, his attempt to connect to his self-proclaimed noble roots led him to early travels to Europe before a return to Antigua in the 1960s. There, he lived and worked until his death in 2009. He developed a hermit-like lifestyle in a hillside shack, part of which is recreated in the gallery for this exhibition.
Keenly interested in the world around him, Walter mostly painted his everyday: local landscapes, children in the village, and ships in the harbor. A stint running a photo studio in town led to his preferred medium on which to paint: photographic paper, or polaroid cards, which provided a slick surface for small-scale, precious paintings in oil. His works were both an effort to document the world around him and a way of coping with memories. Landscape Series, Antigua: - Palm Trees with Hurricane Sky demonstrates the repeated motif of a red sky, which alludes to the tone before a hurricane which destroyed his home; Landscape Series: Black Cliffs with Gathering Birds is one of many works showing the the cliffs of Scotland, which Walter visited in the 1950s based on the instructions of an ancestor who spoke to him in a hallucinatory dream.
While Walter’s work has much in common with outsider art, his distinct intellectual curiosity led to extensive research into philosophy, science, history and religion, and his writings and paintings have a distinctive awareness of the outside world that sets him apart. Startlingly clever, infinitely curious, and often somewhat eccentric, Walter is one of the most captivating, and yet largely unknown artists to come out of the Caribbean.
May 4–8, 2018, Park Avenue Armory