J. Michael Walker

I was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, when legalized segregation was in its clawing-in-the-dirt death throes, and into a culture standing on the wrong side of history. I knew I was an artist pretty much from the moment I had conscious thought; and just as early, surmised that things were not right: that some people in this world were treated differently, pejoratively, because of their race and class. The fact that there were no adults I could talk to about this only caused such questions to fester.

Having no access to “real art” – paintings or sculptures in museums – while I was growing up, I only saw reproduced images. And therefore all image-making felt related. And since I considered image-making a gift, I couldn’t understand why someone would make the images I saw that were clearly hurtful and degrading – and again, with no open-minded adult for guidance.

Creating art was my way to break free of the restrictions I experienced – social and class issues, cultural values, authoritarianism, a broken home – and as a consequence I never took, or took kindly to, structured or instructional art classes (life drawing, still life, etc.), because they felt like more impediments to the self-expression that was practically killing me to be released – so I remained largely self-taught.