Robert Walker, ceramicist, artist and teacher, was born in Bradford in 1960. From an early age he pursued an interest in art and by the age of 15 was already exhibiting his ceramics at the Goosewell gallery in Menston. He sold one of his ceramics sculptures to the mother of David Hockney – an artist that was to play an important formative role in his creative life (see later).
Robert studied at Bradford Art School then continued his art studies at Bristol Polytechnic (1978-81), where he specialised in ceramics under the tutelege of George Rainer and Walter Keeler. During his time at Bristol, Robert met and was influenced by the art work of Bernard Leach, Michael Cardew and Lucie Rie. He became friends with fellow students, Kate Malone and Victoria Oakley, both of whom rose to prominence in the ceramics art world. He graduated from Bristol with a first class honours degree.
Returning to Yorkshire in the early 1980s, Robert trained and qualified as an art teacher, working at the Rhodesway School in Bradford. He was influential in the career of Matthew Harrison, who later studied at Glasgow School of Art and became head of the design team at Wedgewood Ceramics.
In addition to his teaching, Robert established the Friends of Soil Hill Pottery with the aim of reviving interest and rebuilding this historic local country pottery on Soil Hill, Ogden, near Halifax. Throughout the 1980s, Robert also produced his own ceramic sculptures and exhibited work in the UK, including at the Mall Galleries, London, and Bristol City Art Gallery.
In 1991, at the age of thirty-one, he was appointed Head of the Art Department at Bradford Grammar School. The art department at the school at that time was small, underfunded and marginal, but Robert is credited with increasing the size, staffing and status of the department and attracting increasing numbers of students to it. His biennial art exhibitions of students’ work gained praise and became a particular attraction on school Open Days.
He also met David Hockney, an ‘old boy’ of Bradford Grammar School and the two artists became and stayed good friends. At Hockney’s invitation, Robert took a party of Bradford Grammar School students to stay at the artist’s California beach house and persuaded Hockney to contribute a bursary for one particularly talent student.
In 1995, Robert visited David Hockney’s studio and home in California, and the three week stay there, became an important transitional period for his creative work. Robert wrote:
My discovery of colour came as a revelation after my first visit to David Hockney’s studio in Los Angeles. David once said to me after an exhibition of Monet’s work that when he left the gallery he ‘saw’ the colour of shadows in a different way: blues and purples began to appear to him. Well, after my first visit to L.A. I felt the same shock of recognition. I experienced colour in a different way. My palette lightened, my work became more joyous (source: artist’s website, see below).
Painting gradually became more important to Robert, as it allowed him to stay in complete control of the creative process, unlike ceramics, where the firing of work in the kiln can impact on the outcome. In 2000 he visited Malaysia for the first time, leading to a series of Malaysian-inspired paintings, and in 2008 to a retrospective exhibition of 100+ of his paintings at the Worden Arts Centre, Leyland.
In 2011 he moved permanently to Malaysia, and now lives in retirement in Bali. Explaining his fascination with painting Malaysian scenes, Robert has written:
In the Malaysian jungle there is no perspective, no long distance, just a wall of green. Then when you start to look more closely, shapes and textures emerge, but often these are contrary to what you expect – a puzzlement of green; big leaves in the foreground; large leaves in the background; how to create a sense of depth and how to mix so many hues of colour. It overturns our visual traditions. It is outside our comfort zone. It is unsettling, and that excites me. (source: artist’s website, see below).
Artist Contact: via Facebook
See also Robert Walker’s artistic statement about his work at My Art