Painting with Purpose: The Rachel Walker Interview

Art is a language of the soul. It’s laden with symbolism that defies logic, but is completely native to the Spirit. Art tends to serve as a reflection of the thoughts, ideas, and feelings that can’t quite be captured with words. Artists tend to bear the burden of seeing opportunities of expression in the darkest corners of the human condition. Art is not meant to only entertain, but it can also serve as a voice for the voiceless. Certain artists use their gift as a projection of the injustices and hell that people experience every day. Rachel Walker is an artistic maven that has mastered the art of depicting domestic, social, racial, and political issues associated with African Americans. Her talents are by no mean limited to such subject matter, but those painting absolutely stunning. Deep Nerd Magazine is honored to dive into the brain of such a visionary.


How long have you been an artist?

I’ve been practicing and creating art since I  can remember. I studied University of Michigan where I obtained a bachelors in fine art . It has been a while since I’ve created my own art, because I’ve been teaching full-time for the last 10 years as an Art teacher. However, I’ve begun creating art which has been my passion for many years.

Are any of the paintings personal experiences, or is it all vicarious?

All of my paintings reflect my personal experiences. The painting above is a painting of me after I was the victim of domestic abuse. Since high school I have used art as a way to cope with challenges in life. I think this is common among artist. One of my favorite female artists, Frida Kahlo, creates artwork that reflects her challenges and experiences in life. Imagery related to women’s issues, parenting, social and racial issues are common in my artwork.

Do you have a favorite drawing?

Yes, I’m currently working on the attached painting which is my favorite because of the message behind it.

How long does it typically take to complete one painting?

Completion of a painting is dependent on a number of factors, such as scale of the painting, the level or detail and the style. I’m working on small portraits for commission now, scale about 8 x 10 inches in oil medium. Each portrait will take 1 to 2 hours. Two hours is the longest and that’s only if the subject has intricate patterning or braids which take longer. This summer I painted a mural on a business in Detroit, that took me roughly 20 hours.

Is there any kind of situation that stifles your creativity?

No. Artists are probably some of the best problem solvers. Working with limited resources is not foreign so we learn to make the best of mucky situations. Although, working with indecisive and impolite commissioners can hinder motivation and creativity.

Are there any goals that you have for your art?

My main goal in creating art is to provoke thought and emotion to my audiences. I’ve always loved art for its expressive quality. While it is important to have works that are beautiful, I think it is more essential that art help us to identify who we are and consider our role in life. I value the social and political voice in art.

What medium(s) do you use?

I use a diverse range of mediums. My most recent collection of works are oil paintings. I am working on a figurative sculpture as well. It will be constructed from hair. I use oil paints, acrylic paints, pencil, charcoal, watercolor, and other materials. Mediums are selected after considering how it aids in communicating the meaning or message behind the piece.

Are there other artistic outlets that you use to express yourself?

Right now, my primary artistic outlet is visual arts. Furthermore my education and skillfulness compelled me to create visual art. I enjoy all arts but have not explored them in depth. I’ve considered incorporating writing into my art. In an effort to create fictional literature I’ve journaled. However, for now visual art is my passion.

Does the social and political climate of the country right now, in regards to Blacks, enhance or stifle your artistic flow with this kind of art?

The social and political climate of the country right now, in regards to Blacks, definitely enhances my artistic flow. Several of the pieces I am working on relate to social, racial and political issues in recent news. Over the last several years many issues facing Black America have been publicly and privately dominated in the news which raises awareness to the affliction and marginalization of the black community economically. Therefore, my artistic flow is driven by such issues and I want create works that express issues that are important to the black community. The recent portrait I created of the young boy at the table is a painting created to express the stigma associated with young black youth. I titled that piece “An assumption”. The  boy in the painting is my  eight years old son. I dressed him in an orange uniform that resembles a convict with a toy gun on the table beside him. There is an assumption that is made about young black youth, specifically males; the intent of this painting is to make viewers aware of those prejudices.

In regards to perception that you want to project to the public, when it comes to your art, is the message more important than the craftsmanship? Or are they equally important?

I think that the message is more important than craftsmanship.  I’m not a photorealist and I don’t pretend to be very detail oriented. However, on occasion I do add details that affect the message. Although, I value message over craftsmanship, my art is well constructed.

Have you ever found yourself having to defend your art?

I have not yet had to defend my personal art. I have defended art in general. In most cases, you either understand it (art) or you don’t. Sometimes the argument is wasted energy. But I will take a moment to educate anyone on the benefits of art.

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