Kelley Walker

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Kelley Walker

Born 1969 in Columbus, Georgia 
Graduated 1995 University of Tennessee with BFA

Appropriates images from politics and popular culture and defaces them physically and digitally.  Then scans the work and creates prints.  Also sells copies on disk to be further manipulated via Photoshop.

Tension between appropriation and destruction, painting and graffiti 

Named one of 10 "'Greater New York' show artists most likely to succeed" by New York Magazine

"Walker's work is a kaleidoscopic combination of Warhol, Pollock, Dieter Roth, Richard Prince." -- The Village Voice

"I really don't like the term appropriation." -- Kelley Walker

"Graffiti is transgressive, not because it substitutes another content, another discourse, but simply because it responds, there, on the spot, and breaches the fundamental role of non-response enunciated by all the media.  Does it oppose one code to another?  I don't think so: it simply smashes the code." -- Jean Baudrillard

Black Star Press  (2006, silkscreened toothpaste & chocolate on digital print on canvas)



Picture from 1960s race riot, painted with toothpaste and chocolate

Jackson Pollack

"Set at 90 degree angles, the images of a white policeman and black youth literally portray a world turned on end. Splattered with abstracted patterns in symbolic white and chocolate, Walker's gestures mimic violence and contrast, merging ethical corruption and graffiti pop. Printed as a dyptich, Black Star Press is desensitised through repetition, replicating the multiplicity of mass media as vast fields of anesthetised brutality." -- Saatchi Gallery

Pattern expresses violence of scene, riot, and race relations.  Explosion of hate moving from police officer to protester.

Toothpaste = whitening, controlling, sterilizing.

Chocolate = sweet, staining, decaying.

Iteration and changing patterns of toothpaste/chocolate give impression of dynamic movement and violence.

Banality of corporate/consumer culture (sweets like toothpaste and chocolate) cover over evils of history and deny suppressed conflict - this theme is repeated in many of his works

schema; Aquafresh plus Crest with Whitening Expression (2006, CD Rom; scanned image and toothpaste; digital poster on archival paper)


King is an African-American men's magazine.  Walker appropriated two covers from the magazine, painted over them with toothpaste, scanned, and enlarged them.

"Succumbing to the temptations of Hollywood beauty Regina Hall, Walker offers his enduring lust in the form of lewd and raunchy 'splatter painting'." -- Saatchi Gallery

Both defaces and celebrates the women's bodies. 

Race - whitening toothpaste.

Gender - pattern of splatter highlights, outlines, and at points obscures the body.  Answers objectification with his own artistic and political sexualization.

Maui (2001, CD Rom and Poster on canvas)

United Colors of Benetton originally used this Maui air crash photo on the cover of one of their catalouges in 1995, Walker covers it with pattern of colored dots

"Benetton and Walker seem to agree on one thing: Group identity (and the ideals of community and solidarity) is now defined less by shared political interests than by what we purchase or by what calamities we endure together." -- Johanna Burton

Satirizes "United Colors" brand by literally defacing the image with brightly colored circles.  Metaphorically expresses how Benetton has similarly obscured the original meaning of the image.  The inanity and insensitivity of Benetton's image choice becomes revealed - through Walker's obstruction - by the absurd juxtaposition of the dots and the crash.

Dots also a reference to pixelated image - freely flowing digital photographs lose their meaning and can be read into any context, whether tragic or fashionable 

He tried to become so familiar with his equipment that using it became as automatic as driving a car (2001, CD Rom and Poster on canvas)

Found image from anti-capitalist poster, defaced digitally.

"Authorship and authenticity are primary concerns within Kelley Walker's work. Hijacking material from the public domain, Kelley further complicates the everyday transaction of images, converting the banality of information media into instances of sublime horror. In He tried to become so familiar with his equipment that using it became as automatic as driving a car, Kelley enlarges a political advertisement to grand scale, converting the original press photo cum propaganda into a fiction, removed from context one step too far." -- Saatchi Gallery

Massively enlarged images highlight the horror of the scene and subvert the insensitive political intent of the poster.

Blue splotches augment otherworldly feeling of the image, a mediated, computer generated event detached from reality yet still horrifying - hyperreal?

The virtual reality feeling of the image references the lack of human connection the author of the original appropriated poster felt for the disaster.

So familiar with disaster that it has no feeling of human cost. 

We joked that under the paving slabs there was gold (2001, CD Rom and Poster on canvas)

Found image from anti-capitalist poster, defaced digitally. 

Once again, takes anti-capitalist attempt to recontextualize disaster and once again recontextualizes the poster itself, making the image even more horrifying and apocalyptic.  Demonstrates the degree to which modern society fantasizes, even idealizes, massive human tragedy.

Satirizes poster's message "interrogate spatial relationships," by filling in space with bright orange (gold)

The pursuit of money and the celebration of violence lead to disaster. 

Untitled (2001/2004,Car Windshield and paint)

Smashed car windshield, decorated with brightly colored splotches of paint
"Encapsulating beauty and horror, the twisted and smashed windshield takes on a formalist intrigue and decorative desirability, as slivered glass gleans as diamond dust and amoeba-like splotches of paint glow with ornamental celebration. As with all accident scenes, the chilling truth lies in the forensic evidence: coated with candy coloured stains, Walker's untitled portrays a head-on collision with something abstract and seductive, a deadly force with all the frivolous characteristics of Pop." -- Saatchi Gallery
Once again, Walker appropriates an incredibly disturbing text, and then decorates it with banal and cheery ornament.
Smashed windshield an incredibly evocative signifier, both literally and conceptually obscured by bright paint.   
Juxtaposition of the tragic and the sweet creates a dissonance which precludes any possible narrative, instead evokes a tension, even a connection, between aesthetics and horror.


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