developed into rheumatic fever, seriously damaging his heart.
Following his devastating term with the Navy, he studied art at John Herron Art Institute in Indianapolis, Indiana, and later with Frank Schoonover in Wilmington, Delaware. Seeking a milder climate because of his chronic health condition, he moved to Albuquerque in 1925. There, he attended classes at UNM, and with friend and fellow artist Brooks Willis, he opened Wallis Studio, a commercial studio that created and produced greeting cards and other design projects such as New Mexico maps or brass doorstops and hooks.
Walker became president of the newly founded Art League of New Mexico around 1929, and provided design work for league projects such as the souvenir program for their International Satiric Ball. Walker also served as Grand Master for several of their balls, which were given to “change the New Mexican art scene” by raising money for art projects. The balls were held in places like the Alvarado Hotel near the Albuquerque railroad station.
Walker played drums for dance bands, but because of his health he later shifted his focus to the more sedate realm of the piano.
Until around 1930, Walker focused on Southwestern subjects for his representational landscapes and floral compositions in oil and watercolor. Walker and Willis together painted a mural in Albuquerque at the Nob Hill Drugstore for which they bartered for food. Around 1935 through the WPA, Walker completed a series of ten watercolors (now missing) for the U.S. Forest Service, and he joined with Willis to complete a mural for the Bernalillo County Courthouse (now in a private collection following demolition of the building).
One of Walker’s two WPA paintings in the Golden New Mexico Library is an abstraction. Ray Walker became interested in Modernist painting styles during the late 1920s and early 1930s when he was associating with other artists in Albuquerque and Santa Fe (including Gina [Schnaufer] Knee, James Morris, and William Lumpkins) who shared this interest.
In the early 1930s Walker began to abstract landscapes studies that led him to create non-objective canvases based on color, rhythm, and design. Walker’s shift was brought about, in part, by a study of Kandinsky’s early work (the 1908-1915 period), which also concentrated on abstracted landscape motifs, and by his awareness of Kandinsky’s Bauhaus works.
Walker developed a distinctive style with affinities to Art Deco and demonstrated a concern with strong structural elements that mixed geometric figures with more organic ones.
Characteristic of his work was the use of muted natural colors reflecting a sensibility of the New Mexico landscape. Walker described his work as a portrayal of abstract rhythms in life forms. When he stated for the UNM student newspaper, The University of New Mexico Lobo, that the paintings were purely decorative in nature–free from mystic interpretation– [Raymond] Jonson clarified to the interviewer that Walker “was merely being modest.”
After two years of hospitalizations and failing health, he died. Walker’s death at the age of thirty-six was a sad loss to his TPG friends, who arranged to have two memorial exhibitions, one at the Museum of Fine Arts in Santa Fe and a second at UNM’s Fine Arts Building sponsored by the Art League.
Submitted by Larry W. Greenly
Tiska Blankenship, Vision and Spirit: The Transcendental Painting Group,
“Stuart Walker” (1904-1940); Jonson Gallery Exhibition Catalogue, 1997