Henry Jock Walker is an artist who almost effortlessly puts joy back into the art of painting. With a primary focus on process, Walker incorporates performance, the readymade, machines, surfing and collaboration. In many instances, it is not the final outcome that is important, but the process by which the image is created. And in embracing such a range of activity, with a reliance on chance, Walker is able to bring fun into painting. Through this play, Walker raises questions about the public persona, the way we interact with art and what it means to work as part of a team or group. Always up for an experiment, Walker joined a masterclass in 2017 which came to have a huge impact on his practice and exhibition at Fonatelle later that year.
Run by the Mill, the Choreographic Futures masterclass, saw Canadian choreographer Ame Henderson work with a group of eight artists to explore their practice through movement. The participants came from a range of backgrounds including drawing, dance, painting and choreography. Over the course of a week Henderson led the group through a range of exercises and experiments . Many exercises took the form of an instruction: to use a piece of paper to record movement, to create something new in 5 minutes or to tell the story of how you got there by using only your leg. Described by Walker as provocations, each one tested a different aspect of practice. A combination of short exercises, longer times spent in reflection, working together to bounce of each other and focusing solo on your own practice. In particular, Walker was struck by the freedom and the generosity, not only of Henderson as a facilitator but also the other participants. There is a freedom to following small instructions with no pressure to be perfect. And something about working amongst a group of people who so readily embrace new ideas and processes.
Inspired by his time at Choreographic Futures, Walker took this process of provocation and utilised it as part of his exhibition at Fontanelle Gallery, Hardcore since ’64. Partly inspired by a need to clear out his studio, the exhibition was focused around three week blocks, marked by a period of rehearsal followed by an opening and later a closing party. Walker worked with a group of over 50 friends to carry out simple instructions that saw the contents of his studio emptied into the gallery space, rearranged and rebuilt. These instructions were not just given by Walker, but all participants were able to join in and take charge. Over the course of the exhibition the installation changed and grew, with participants themselves taking on the role of provocateur.
In his practice Walker is gradually expanding to include wider and wider circles in his participatory work. In 2013 he took his work on the road as he circumnavigated Australia with his project Henry’s Mobile Studio (HMS) which saw him engage with artists and communities through his travels. His work The expanding paddock of agricultural expressionism (2016) expanded this group of participants yet again, this time bringing in the whole town of Burra. In 2018 Walker was awarded a residency at Saubier House in Noarlunga. He has taken this opportunity to combine his two loves: surfing and art. He has converted the gallery into a surf shop, encouraging the local surf community, an audience who do not typically engage with the gallery in to feel at home, share their own unique knowledge and met the special guests Walker has invited to participate.
The outcome could be many things, but again, this is not the important part. More important for his practice Walker has extended the conversation around painting and art to include a wider community. He has taken the process and learning from his time with Henderson, and applied it to a new space. And again, Walker has been able to create a temporary community, brought together through art and experimentation. These bonds will be ongoing, and a whole new audience has been introduced to the dynamic and colourful world of Henry Jock Walker and his frenetic painting practice.