Art Beat: Dogs and shapely pears
Imagine my delight at meeting artist Randy Walker recently at his studio within Ninth Wave Studio in downtown Kalamazoo. As we talked, I learned that Walker had worked alongside my father, Viestarts Aistars, who was a graphic artist at Allied Art in Kalamazoo in the 1960’s. Only Walker was just a teenager then, cleaning windows and mowing the lawn, still deciding on his future. But he’s now an accomplished artist in his own right, retired from a successful career in graphic art and illustration and pursuing his own artistic expression in painting and sculpture.
Walker began his art education in Los Angeles, but it was too expensive, so he looked for a less expensive school in San Francisco. His plans were interrupted when he was drafted into the U.S. Army.
“When I came back, I had to decide what I was going to do,” Walker says. “The only thing I really knew was art and graphic design, so that’s what I stuck with and was fortunate enough to get work in San Francisco.”
Walker returned to his native Kalamazoo when it was time to think about starting a family, and he continued working in graphic design. It wasn’t his first venture into commercial art.
“I had worked in a commercial art studio here in Kalamazoo when I was fourteen, doing the lawn and the windows and all kinds of work like that,” he says. “But eventually, I started working in keyline and paste-up. And actually, that’s where I met your father! That goes way back, but my gosh, your dad—his story was not an easy one. The fact that he and family were able to get to the United States after all the troubles they had, having to just walk out the door in Latvia (during the Soviet occupation), it just showed me that if you stick with something and you believe in it, you’re going to push through. I really credit him and a few others with that insight.”
Among them are Walker’s dogs. Every morning, he takes the family dog on a walk, returning home inspired by all that he saw: the morning light, the mist and drifting fog, and the trees and grasses that his furry companion helped him see.
“Max had his own mind,” Walker recalls one of his dogs. “At the time, we lived near a lake. He felt it was okay to take off and go into the lake and the mud. What happened is that I would walk him every morning through the woods, and I started to notice things I hadn’t noticed before. And then it struck me that I should have a journal of this, only a visual journal with the kind of things I would find along the path.”
Along with Walker’s mixed media visual journal are drawings, paintings, and even sculptures of pears. The inspiration for those came from a wedding gift Walker painted for a friend. Asked for a favorite subject, the friend named pears.
“Some other people saw the painting and made requests,” Walker says. “I watched some of the pears age, and I thought that was appropriate. Maybe we shouldn’t show them so clean and smooth and perfect – that was more interesting to me. But I also think they’re sexy. It’s nice to have that shape around.”
Listen to WMUK's Art Beat every Friday at 7:50 a.m. and 4:20 p.m.