ROCKLAND — In a perfect world, John Walker wouldn’t have to exhibit his paintings. People would make appointments and visit him in his studio, or just drop by at the right time.

“I’m not an exhibitor, really,” he said by phone from his studio in South Bristol, where he has painted the tides and subtle changes in the marine landscape for two decades. “I don’t enjoy it. I find the work looks so vulnerable. I always think it should be better. It’s just a nervous tic. My pictures always look best in the studio.”

This summer, Walker has two simultaneous exhibitions in Maine, a show of more than two dozen mostly large-scale paintings at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art in Rockland and a small exhibition of large drawings at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art in Brunswick, associated with Bowdoin’s primary summer show, “Why Draw?”

Both exhibitions involved discussions of his work in public settings, occasions that he ultimately enjoyed but loathed preparing for, because they made him nervous and self-conscious.

Walker, born in Birmingham, England, in 1939, has exhibited widely internationally and represented England at the 1972 Venice Biennale. He taught at Boston University for 15 years before retiring in 2014 and also taught at Cooper Union and Yale University.

He’s painted from his home at Seal Point in South Bristol for most of the past 20 years and has lived there full time since retiring from BU three years ago. Walker is a leading abstract painter, with works in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, the British Museum, the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin and other museums across the world.


At CMCA through Oct. 29, “From Seal Point,” includes a perspective from his home that he has investigated in his painting for years. Seal Point is to Walker what Mont Sainte-Victoire was to Cezanne, a familiar place and spiritual home, said Suzette McAvoy, CMCA’s director and curator. She described Walker’s work from Seal Point as “tough, lush and muscular,” distinguished by bold colors and patterns. “They seem almost Matisse-like in their embrace of vivid color and pattern,” she said. “These paintings pack a solid visual punch, and I mean that in a good way. They really speak with a confident aesthetic voice and keep you coming back to look again and again, revealing something new each time.”

“John Constable’s Tree,” by John Walker, 2014, oil on canvas.

These abstract paintings are framed by the view from his property, with a recurring jetty and the movement of water repeating as motifs.

Walker called his post-retirement existence at Seal Point as “pretty nondescript. It’s about the tide coming in and the tide going out.” He paints daily and appreciates the opportunity of living there year-round to capture moments of interest as they occur.

When he lived in South Bristol part of the year, he sometimes felt the pressure of a short painting season. He’s not sure if his painting has changed since he has lived in Maine full time, but how he views his landscape, familiar though it is after 20 years of immersion, feels more relaxed.

“It leads to different decisions,” he said. “One doesn’t have to worry about new ideas, because the ideas keep renewing themselves.”

McAvoy attributed Walker’s sustained success to his commitment and curiosity. Working with students has kept him inquisitive and engaged, and he serves as a role model to generations of painters.


“John is so highly thought of and respected by others because he has never wavered in his belief in the importance of painting and of the role of art in life,” she said. “He is very principled in his approach to his art and craft, and he’s never been one to respond to the demands of the marketplace. He is his own true self in his art.”

“Wait” by John Walker, 2017, oil on canvas, is part of his exhibition at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art in Rockland.

Simultaneous to the painting show at CMCA, Bowdoin is showing six large-scale drawings in a small but powerful exhibition, “John Walker: A Painter Draws.” The exhibition focuses on a series of drawings that Walker made in Sydney, Australia, in 2012. The drawings respond to a bamboo plant that Walker encountered at a botanical garden. He interpreted his subject on site, in ink and acrylic, then tore the paper and created collages.

They were pinned on a studio wall when Bowdoin curator Joachim Homann saw them and asked to exhibit them in tandem with the summer-long show about drawing. Walker consented.

“There were a whole lot of them, and there’s no good leaving them rolled up. But they weren’t meant to be shown. They were possibilities for the future,” he said. “I’m very interested in them as new paintings. In themselves they’re OK, but I see a better future for them.”

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

Twitter: pphbkeyes

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