"The delicacy and intelligence of George Walker's printmaking seems to have come to us from a bygone age. Fortunately, we have George with us now." -- Neil Gaiman
A cold case from 1917, the tragic cost of the events of 9/11, and the rise and fall of a media baron. These are the themes as imagined by George Walker in his three wordless contemporary narratives -- The Mysterious Death of Tom Thomson, The Book of Hours and Conrad Black -- told in wood engravings.
The Mysterious Death of Tom Thomson Thomson was a young Canadian artist of great promise. When his body was discovered in a lake in Algonquin Park in July 1917, Thomson had been missing for eight days. Although the official cause of death was accidental drowning, the corpse had fishing line wrapped around a leg and the head showed evidence of trauma. The Mysterious Death of Tom Thomson re-imagines in some 100 wood engravings the events leading up to Thomson's tragic death and the discovery of his body.
Book of Hours Book of Hours: A Wordless Novel Told in 99 Wood Engravings is a sequence of visual narratives chronicling the 24-hour period leading up to the attacks on the World Trade Center. The book charts the imagined lives of people who worked in the twin towers. Walker imbues his book with the specter of horror that the reader knows will shatter the lives of those involved and forever alter the course of world events.
Conrad Black Walker's Conrad Black imagines the life of this notorious, intellectually complex and fascinating business figure. Black's life is relayed in a sequence of events and episodes in no discernible pattern. Initial impulses set in motion in the early years tumble forward through the decades, culminating in downfall and catharsis.
George A. Walker holds a master's degree in communication and culture from Ryerson and York University. He was elected to the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts in 2002 in recognition of his achievements in Canadian Book Arts. He is an associate professor at the Ontario College of Art and Design University. Walker is the author of The Woodcut Artists' Handbook and is recognized for his art history book on wordless novels, Graphic Witness. He lives and works in Toronto.
Defiantly contemporary, George A. Walker is a Canadian artist whose wood-engraved limited-edition books acknowledge the dense and rich tradition from which they emerge. Literate and articulate, Walker expresses complex thoughts and ideas in singular images. He publishes books without texts, letting the pictures alone carry the narratives.
The technical dimension of his artistic practice far exceeds material, method and process. Depictions of such everyday activities as making coffee, photocopying a page and gossiping; or of jealousy, aggression and sudden death; or of the cozy, inscrutable exercise of corporate power, become voices of profound loss and longing, and, most of all, expressions of contained anger at inequity, injustices and abuse of power.
Walker has been drawn to printmaking since his time as an art student in the late 1970s at the Ontario College of Art, in Toronto. In the mid- 1980s, he began to develop a reputation as an artist whose pictorial interpretations of poetry expanded the nuances of meaning beyond what words alone were capable of conveying. Word and image became inextricably linked, two narrative alphabets running side by side.
First and foremost, Walker brings to his art a deep respect for the craft of wood engraving. At base level, he realizes that the medium itself is a signifier of the meaning: process is a dimension of the formal properties of the work. Walker wants his readers to understand the rituals of process, and he takes care to educate them on the craft of image-making, the wood engraver's tools, the distinction between various kinds of wood-carving techniques and principles, and the characteristic markers that the many carving tools make in the plate surfaces.
In addition to a respect for process, Walker intends that his images show their links to art historical precedents. In particular, he saw in the work of the 20th-century Mexicans -- muralists and printmakers -- ways of loading images with the language of liberation so that the message could be understood and read by anyone, anywhere. As he acknowledged in a statement published in 2010, printmaking, perhaps more than any other medium, has a long lineage of promoting social development. "As I learned about the history of printmaking," he wrote, "I was struck by how often the wood-block print had been used over the years as a tool of social change and revolution. In my own small way, I joined that long tradition."
The recognition that a print could give witness to injustice, as the Mexican tradition showed, led him also to research the 20th-century history of the graphic novel, in particular the work of Frans Masereel, Otto NÃ¼ckel, Lynd Ward and Laurence Hyde. Like them and their followers, Walker aims to take the book form beyond words, expanding and changing not only how a story might be told but also how it might be "read." The examples of these artists gave him a context for developing his own work.
Walker is the heir of this tradition. In the absence of any text at all in his books, the images and the medium do the work of storytelling, with a greater depth of expression and allusiveness than is perhaps generally possible through the written word. At the same time, the narrative "voice" reserves judgment, allowing the work to inhabit a place of neutrality by simply presenting dramatic pictorial devices for the reader to interpret, based on how they speak to him or her.
In The Mysterious Death of Tom Thomson, the first of the three graphic narratives in this collection, Walker employs resonant images to allow his tale to emerge. Thomson was a promising and young Canadian artist whose "mysterious" death in the wilderness in 1917 immediately sparked a series of conspiracy theories, while elevating his paintings to near the top of the nation's artistic canon, a place where they remain to this day. Although the official cause of his death was accidental drowning, how he actually died is unknown. Speculation abounds either that a neighbor murdered him or that he fell during a drunken brawl.
The Mysterious Death of Tom Thomson re-imagines in some 100 wood engravings the events leading up to the artist's tragic death and the discovery of his body. It explores the themes of death and the realization that, in spite of even the greatest achievements, a human is nonetheless powerless against it. It is a visual elegy reflecting on loss.
The title -- Book of Hours -- the second of the three narratives, is a homage to Masereel's Mon Livre d'heures, while also pointing to the book's structure as a sequence of narratives chronicling random and banal events over a 24-hour period leading up to the attacks on the World Trade Center. More than a collection of prints, the book charts the lives of the people who worked in the Twin Towers performing seemingly unimportant daily rituals that mark the passage of time. Yet Walker imbues his book with the specter of the horror that would soon disrupt these lives and forever alter the course of world events in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks. In this sense, Book of Hours is primarily an elegiac visual narrative, mourning the loss of the individual souls, and also the innocence of the society that was destroyed by the events.
Book of Hours contains many unanswered questions about the position of the omniscient "narrator / artist" in the story, and the place that the reader assumes in the telling of the story. Although there seems to be a distance between the scenes and the narrator -- the viewer is most often passively involved in the various tableaux -- we are faced with the uncomfortable realization that, through the narrative eye, we are involved in the impending catastrophe, know of the imminent attack, and yet cannot alter the course of the events depicted. The reader has been rendered mute, as wordless as the narrative itself, and helpless in the face of danger. Above all, Book of Hours reclaims and redeems the lives and actions of the victims, giving their fate a voice, albeit wordless. It functions beyond the limits of language and time.
Walker next explores the life of an intellectually complex and rebarbative business figure. In the third narrative, Conrad Black, Black's life is relayed in a series of episodes, discrete yet connected by the involvement of the reader seeking coherence in the detail, and veracity in the pictures' open-endedness.
Black rose to fortune and fame because of his use of words as an author and newspaper publisher. Walker tells us through his own non-use of words that Black, by teaching reading to his fellow prisoners, gave them the capacity, perhaps, to gain some power over their own destinies.
There is a startling directness in these three books, yet they are all intended to effect change, often in the immediate world around us. Through these eloquent, wordless tales, Walker declares that reading without words is an affirmative act of liberation from the voiceless chaos beyond the edges of the page.
-- Tom Smart
The Mysterious Death of Tom Thomson: Told in 109 Wood Engravings
Book of Hours: A Wordless Novel Told in 99 wood engravings
Conrad Black: A Visual Biography Told in100 Wood Engravings