Courtesy of Robin Walker
When people think of California and creativity they image the bright lights and glamour of Hollywood. But about 45 minutes away lies Topanga Canyon, which has been a rustic breeding ground for musicians and artists for decades. So it’s no surprise that growing up in this hot bed of inspiration might seep into native Angeleno Robin Walker’s psyche while he was a local kid.
As he recounted in a recent interview, “I grew up in Topanga Canyon. My parents moved there in the 1950s because they couldn’t stand the crowdedness in Los Angeles, and Topanga was a world away. It was full of creative types. It seemed normal to see people like Neil Young in the market or members of Fleetwood Mac or Supertramp. I hadn’t recognized my creativity yet, though, so I didn’t get that I was among greatness. All I knew was that my friends from the Valley were really jealous. I was the odd man out in my family. My brother and sister still live there happily, and my mom stayed there until her death at 90. Despite the beauty of Topanga, and the bohemian lifestyle, I never liked the isolation and ruggedness. I was always a people person who wanted neighbors and places to meet.”
His first exposure to art was through a family friend who was an artist. “He spent his days sitting at the creek, painting the exquisite color changes in the underwater rocks,” recounted Walker. “His house, which was his studio, too, had a hole in the roof with a tree growing through it. At a young age, I dreamed of a life like that but I denied my creative urges through high school and most of the way through college.”
Instead, Walker decided to go a more traditional route and become a psychotherapist. “Like many who study psychology, I was looking for a solution to my unhappiness. As a teenager, I had grown quite depressed. For some reason, I never honored my creativity and just plugged away, trying hard to be an obedient kid. What a mistake.”
But Walker couldn’t deny the need to explore his artistic impulses. “In graduate school, I suddenly became aware of my creative urges and my need to express myself. ‘Why didn’t I go to art school?’ I asked myself. I knew I really needed to explore my expressive side, but also knew it was a dumb idea to abandon my studies, so I vowed to teach myself to paint.”
He also realized that it would make him better at his job. Walker conceded, “I thought, 'What kind of therapist encourages others to find their true selves but can’t find their own? If I’m going to be a good therapist, I’m going to have to be an artist, too.’ So while I was busy writing my academic thesis, I was also busy teaching myself to paint.”
He chose that particular art form, because “it’s immediate and can be big and bold and, mostly, full of color. I love color. People often ask me ‘what’s your favorite color?’ which is way too limiting. I’ll answer ‘Green, when it’s next to purple’ or ‘I love it when a really yellowish green gets together with teal and a tiny little bit of orange.’ It’s the combinations that drive me wild. An explosion of color is something all my paintings have in common.”
Courtesy of Robin Walker
He spoke of his process, saying, “I also love expressive brushwork. I’m not meticulous about getting paint on canvas. I love the way paint makes a record what the artist did in the last moment. Every person on earth has a different way of making a mark, and the paint records it. I use those really cheap brushes that you get at Home Depot for a dollar. I load them up with two or three colors and then hit the canvas with it. I love acrylic paints for their vivid colors and quick drying time. Within minutes, I can either preserve or paint over my last brush strokes, saving the ones I want and putting down new ones to further the composition.”
In addition to being full of vivid colors, Walker’s work is full of what he calls “loose and quirky figures” and a story. And he appreciates when people find a childlike element in what he does. “My work is definitely of the ‘my-kid-could-do-that’ variety, to which I say, ‘Thank you,’” acknowledged Walker. “That tells me that I’ve been able to lose the ‘mature’ pretense that makes a lot of art too arty. My art is about sharing the raw energy of being alive. It’s not about self-consciousness or attempts to render what is already seen. There’s a quote from Paul Klee that I like: ‘Art does not reproduce the visible; it makes visible.’”
And when it comes to inspiration, Walker draws from aspects of his everyday existence. “The biggest influence on my art is not a single event or experience, but the day-to-day happenings that make up a life: Family, purpose, friends, curiosity and dealing with the fact that, as humans, we are aware of our own existence. The themes in my work are all about this.”
In addition to working on his own art, Walker likes to other people to nurture. “My Open Studio is a really special time for me. I invite people to come to my studio and just work on their projects. It’s not a formal art class but more of a sacred space in which creativity and expression can run amok. I’m there to make sure the creativity happens and that each artist is being true to themselves. Once in a while, I teach someone a lesson about color or composition but mostly I shepherd the artistic process.”
According to Walker, of the seven people in this group, six are also therapists. He revealed what draws them to the studio, “They come to fill in the blank space in their academic training in psychology. Graduate school taught us the reasons that we listen or the subtleties of the process of change or the steps to better communication. As a psychotherapist, you can be either technician or an artist. The technician does the job and generally helps people by introducing them to psychological concepts. It can be a little dry. Some therapists are artists, though. These are people who have worked hard to see and feel with a broader and deeper empathy. The artistic therapist has spent time with experiential answers to big questions. Who am I? What is my life about? What do I really feel? Sometimes the answers to these kinds of questions is in creativity, not in words. Sometimes the answers are images or textures. I love that I get to help people find that. And we make some great work.”
He is currently focusing on pieces that show relationships and the struggle for connection. He described the works as having “multiple figures, some showing off, others having found each other, others sharing meals or inviting the viewer to join them. And my oddball obsession is a picture I put away, unfinished, about five years ago. It’s of a princess and her lady-in-waiting who have gone out shoe shopping. I’m not sure where that one is going, but I love the concept. Maybe it’s about materialism and/or comfort.”
In addition to work Walker will have on display in San Luis Obispo, he will have a piece in the Mirrors of the Mind show, an exhibit featuring art entirely by psychotherapists, from November 18 to the 26 at ArtShare at 801 E. 4th Place in Los Angeles, CA 90013. To find out more visit http://www.robinwalkerstudio.com/.