Peter Walker: “I Capture People Who Ask Me for Money on the Street”


There in upcoming debate about whether an artist needs a teacher or mentor to succeed in his or her career. For California based artist Peter Walker, who has been selected as a finalist of the international art competition The Art Sprinter the answer is obvious. Being an artists and a teacher at the same time, Peter believes that teaching allows him to see his art from the different perspective. In this interview Peter Walker tells The Art Sprinter Blog  his story of growth to his present level of artistic “sophistication” and explains why he believes that the art is a war.

Please introduce yourself to The Art Sprinter Blog readers.
I received a joint Bachelor degree in English and Visual Arts from Brigham Young University. After taking a year or two to further my art, I was accepted to the San Francisco Art Institute where I received an MFA in Painting and Critical Theory. I currently wear two professional hats. I continue my art practice and I’m the Department Chair of Visual Arts at Milken Community High School in Los Angeles, CA.

From your experience, do you think that art contests are helpful for artists?
I hope so since I’ve entered many of them! They give an artist not only increased exposure in new places and to different audiences but also allow him/her to become acquainted with a wider professional circle.

What would you advice the artists who are thinking to participate in The Art Sprinter competition?
Absolutely do it. You have on going chances to participate giving you the maximum likelihood of showing your art in one of three amazing locations. It is a great opportunity.


When and why did you decided to be an artist? What are the most important projects you have been working on?
Though I have been an “artist” since I was a child, it was not until several years after I graduated with my BA that I decided to pursue art professionally. I was pre-law in college and when I decided against that I took a job in the tech industry after graduation. Every night I would come home and paint in my spare time. Eventually I decided to own my real passion so I quit my job, applied to graduate school. The rest is history.

According to bio, you are not only an artist yourself but also an art teacher. Please tell us more about this part of your life.
Being an educator is both personally and artistically necessary for me. Students see with fresh, untainted eyes. They ask fundamental questions I have long since forgotten in my march to art “sophistication.” They force me to constantly return to the basics and ask questions of things I thought I knew long ago. I often tell them I may be their teacher by title, but I see myself as the senior student among a community of learners.

It is probably difficult to teach art and to be an artist at the same time, hard not to impose your own opinion on students. How are you dealing with this dilemma?
It can be difficult but I try not to be didactic in the art or teaching. Questions are always more interesting than statements. I believe in the Socratic method. When asked a question, I usually respond in kind. This creates an atmosphere of dialogue rather then lecturing.

What do you like the best about teaching? What do you dislike about teaching?
The loosest definition of art is merely the act of conscientious creation. As an artist my work is visual. As an educator my art is often immaterial. Regardless, it is all “art.” When a student grows or experiences personal epiphanies, if I helped in that process, I consider that a work of immaterial art. The best and worst part of education are different sides of the same coin. When a student succeeds, I succeed. When a student does not, I don’t.


What role do you see art and your art in particular playing in society today?
I know I should have a profound and sweeping answer for the art’s role in today’s society, but honesty demands I respond with an incredibly noncommittal, “I don’t know.” I once believed it to have the capacity to change the world or some other such nonsense but time has a way of tempering the eccentricities of youth. I still believe in its potential but I also see its limitations. Now I think less globally and more individually about the art. If it can be a catalyst, even in some small way, if it can awaken personal awareness in an individual it has served its purpose. I hope for nothing more or less from my own art.

How do you find objects for your paintings?
My current drawing series are self-selecting. I want to capture brief moments of chance encounters with people on the periphery of my experience. There is only one criteria for this set of subjects. They have to ask me for money on the street. If they do, I explain my project and offer them money in exchange for their participation.

Which creative medium do you prefer to work with and why?
For my current work I use pencil on paper. My subjects are transitory and fleeting. I wanted to capture those feelings and oil painting felt too permanent. I also wanted to spend time with the subject; to get to know them as it were. I wanted to hover in an ambiguous space of fleeting yet familiar; temporary yet personable. Intensive, life-sized pencil drawings on unframed paper seemed to make the most intuitive sense.

What is your best environment to create art?
I am an a-typical artist in this regard. My work is labor and time intensive. I need clean, controlled space.


Who is your favorite artist and why? Please name the old masters you like the most.
I have a cornucopia of artists who have influenced me at different periods of my artistic development. It would make for an interesting exercise to try and find a common string throughout them. They either speak to me on a cognitive, aesthetic, technical level. Some include Rembrandt, William Blake, J. W. M. Turner, Mark Rothko, Anselm Kiefer, Gerhard Richter, William Kendrich, Richard Serra.

What can we look forward to seeing from you in the future?
I have done a considerable amount of works based on geography and now I’ve been working on portraiture. I have been thinking of ways to combine the two.

What would you tell other aspiring painters, any advice?
Art is often a war of attrition. Just keep producing work.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.