The artistic heritage of the island nation of Antigua deepened dramatically with the recent emergence of its native son Frank Walter—reclusive artist, writer, philosopher and poet. Walter’s death in 2009 brought to light a remarkable trove of his paintings, sculpture, photographs, and constructions, along with at least 25,000 pages of his writing, that reveal a talent and intelligence not fully appreciated or understood during his lifetime. Walter chose to spend the last decades of his life isolated on a hilltop in a self-built house without water or electricity. Upon his passing, Walter’s family carefully recorded and conserved as many as 1,500 objects found in his home. The resulting cache of artworks, most being seen publicly for the first time, is a strikingly beautiful panoply of forms and imagery that stake a claim to Antigua’s firm standing in world culture.
Frank Walter’s art, like his life, was deceptively simple, full of straightforward truths and complex contradictions. He was a keen observer of humanity though he spent much of his life alone. He was at once a common sign painter and a visionary abstractionist; a small-time photographer whose passport photos were also deeply penetrating portraits; a collector of discarded scraps, torn and creased, on which he would paint a sunset for the ages.
Walter worked most often with found materials on which he painted remarkable landscapes, as well as elaborate visions of the universe and cryptic musings on nuclear energy. Each displays a refined awareness of abstraction and design, and a formal sensibility reminiscent of the twentieth century’s greatest masters. The figure also plays an important role in Walter’s oeuvre, perhaps most arrestingly in his carved-wood sculptures that few have seen outside of his family. These intimate and soulful portraits are imbued with an uncanny human spirit that kept Walter company in his years spent alone. Whimsical signs and innovative, artfully constructed toys bear witness to the artist’s indomitable creativity.
But any discussion of Walter’s art must begin and end with the jewel-like landscapes painted on card stock that is actually the blank side of a Polaroid film package. As if to complete the effect, the artwork is humbly framed inside the spent black metal Polaroid cartridge to which it is intrinsically suited. It is there that the heart and soul of Antigua plays out on a 4 x 3 inch sheet with vivid colors, nuanced spatial relationships and effortless technique.
Other larger paintings are executed on the backs of his own photographs or those he co-opted from his one-time studio mate, a Reuters photographer. If the “Polaroid” landscapes are his travelogue works—his plein-air notations while on the go—then these 8 x 10s are his more finished “studio” pieces, his fully realized compositions intended for a much dreamed of retrospective exhibition that was not to be, until now.