Each of our Artist Spotlights will include a 10-question interview with the featured individual, in this case the multi-talented Hudson-based painter Jack Walls.
Mr. Walls has been a fixture on the New York creative scene since the early 1980s, when he became both the last partner and muse of photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. His main aesthetic focuses have been collage and painting, and he has served as a willing mentor for numerous up-and-coming artists. In addition to his visual work, he is also an established poet and author, most notably for The Ebony Prick of the White Rose’s Thorn.
Jack Walls and Robert Mapplethorpe, 1985
Photograph: Gilles Larrain
R: First, tell us a bit about yourself: where you’re from, a bit of your history, how you came to this point in time.
JW: My parents were from Mississippi, I was born in Chicago. When I was young, I mean really young, one of my earliest memories is sitting around the kitchen table drawing with my two oldest brothers. We did that every evening after we’d finished up our home work. I’m talking about this because you wanted to know how I came to this point in my life. The truth is I’ve always been an artist, people have told me so all my life, long before I decided to live in New York. I took my skills as an artist for granted for a long time.
R: Had you always wanted to work in the arts? Were there any people in particular who encouraged your creative aspirations?
JW: It’s not that I wanted to work in the arts, because that’s not really “work” being an artist, it’s a labor of love, more of a calling, I’d say. When I moved to New York I met Mary Nittolo; she recognized and treated me as an artist immediately, she was really influential. She was an early mentor.
R: You work in both the visual arts and the spoken/written word; do you feel those two genres derive from entirely different sides of your creativity, or are they interlinked?
JW: For me it’s all the same, one feeds off the other.
R: How much of yourself do you imbue into your works? Are they highly personal in nature, or more observant?
JW: Off the cuff I would say more observant, but everything is autobiographical, so yeah, it’s personal too.
Jack Walls, cover image for The Ebony Prick of the White Rose’s Thorn
Photograph: Steven Sebring
R: You’ve recently moved to Hudson, a town known for its vibrant artistic community. Do you feel this new location has had an impact on your work?
JW: Yeah, more space….
R: What was the inspiration for this new series of paintings?
JW: The HEADS? Without any hesitation I’d say Picasso and Basquiat. I wanted to paint something raw because basically I’m an elegant person in my artistic style: my writing style is elegant, my drawing leans towards the elegant; I didn’t want my painting to be like that, too. I wanted to do something—well, at least to me—aggressive. I thought about what they said when you went to the zoo, about bearing your teeth to animals, like if you smile at an animal they take it as a sign of aggression because they kill with their teeth, so hence all the teeth.
R: Why portraits?
JW: I see these as studies, maybe as character studies. But these are good to do because it’s just like in life: rarely do two people have the same face, but we all have faces.
For Johnny T
R: Is this the medium you prefer working in? Are there other techniques you would like to explore more deeply?
JW: We’ll see. I pretty much like all the disciplines; I’m even beginning to appreciate photography [laughs].
R: Who are some of your favorite artists, authors, creators, working today?
JW: That’s a loaded question, because most of my friends are super talented and I don’t want to leave anyone out, but out of pure respect I have to say Patti Smith.
R: What is your next project?
JW: I’m going paint and have shows; I like painting, it’s something I can do gracefully into the long night.