Almost ten years ago Ian Walton gave me a box: a smoke grey frame surrounds what at first appears to be some kind of ancient artifact. The colour is strange - bruised browns, mottled blues, dulled purples. Scatterings of sand and pebbles chine colle the remnants of what was once paper so that it has become like a transparent skin. At its centre transfixed like a flower, is a battered, half-burned match book, dusted still with pink.
The effect of the painting is well described by its title eb...eb, for as with all Walton's art it requires time and quiet contemplation for the multi-layered meanings of this work fully to resonate. It is a painting which over the years has become more significant to me, as someone who exhibits the work of contemporary artists, in defining what is still important in the language of certain individuals working today.
It seems that we are living at a particular moment of crossing over - a time of changes in physical boundaries and cultural hegemonies. The world is speeding up, technological advances divide the generations and man is moving inexorably from the natural world and its immutable cycles. In visual art the viewer has had to learn to deconstruct a form of expression now divorced from any fundamentally religious or social function. The artist and the viewer both have become more self-conscious as our art becomes increasingly self-referential. The dissection of meanings has developed a language in visual art which leaves little that cannot be said. We have become uncomfortable with mysteries and seem in danger of obscuring the fundamental language of the visual image, with its peculiar resistance to discussion and its own profound logic - we are in danger of losing the language of silence.
To me Walton shares the artistic sensibilities of such figures in the twentieth century as Schwitters, Beuys and Kiefer. Like them he uses the discarded and forgotten to fashion objects of profound and poignant beauty and while his work is deeply subjective in its observation and emotional content it is free from egotism. He has in common with these artists also something I can only describe as a kind of moral certitude about the role of the artist: as seer, as regenerator. He is not afraid to place the frail, the shabby, the unadorned before us as objects for contemplation. He is not afraid to say that these things matter, not that consciousness must by necessity include sadness.
Walton's work is landbased: land as metaphor for time and for the mind. Working slowly (sometimes over the course of 3 or 4 months) he parallels in his creative activity the central subjects in his paintings. While not attempting to literally depict nature's ceaseless transformations, the manufactured surfaces of his large canvases do certainly resemble the excavated earthwork, the dried-up river bed and the slow stainings of moss, rust and lichen on man-made artifice. The time it takes to make these paintings is important, for this slow evolution seems to trap an emotional content into the 'object' of the work itself. Just as nature preserves relics and fossils, Walton's layerings of bitumen, metals, ash, wax, paint and dust draw into the paintings particular memories, subjective and personal, but transmuted like shadows and whispers, allowing the viewer space for their own imagination and imaginings.
(c)Emma Hill 1995
Emma Hill is Founder / Director of The Eagle Gallery, London which was established in 1991 to promote the work of contemporary British artists through a regular programme of exhibitions and installations. She established the Dinosaur Press in 1990 as a private imprint to encourage the collaboration of artists and contemporary writers in bookwork projects. Dinosaur Press publications are in the collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; the Tate Gallery Library, London; the British Council, London and the Arts Council of Great Britain.