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Robert Walker

American, b. 1942

Snow Blind
1977

Nylon netting, plastic, and enamel
62 x 63 x 5 in. (157.48 x 160.02 x 12.7 cm)
Gift of the Kathryn C. Wanlass Foundation
2012.2

Among the first students to graduate from the MFA program at the University of California, Irvine, in 1971, John Walker had the benefit of being a principal student of Robert Irwin. Perhaps the most influential of the light and space artists, Irwin taught at UCI from 1969 to 1971, the critical years when he was refining his disc series in a quest for perceptual purity.

One of the few graduate students in the program and perhaps the only one with interest in exploring issues of perception in his work, Walker no doubt had Irwin’s attention. In turn, Walker was inspired by Irwin, who encouraged him to “stop dealing with the object.” In some ways Walker does just that with Snow Blind.

Constructed of nylon netting that has been covered in plastic to make it hold its shape, Snow Blind has the physical attributes of something solid, yet it seems to be a form in the process of dissolving. As the title suggests, it refers to the state of being visually confounded, unable to clearly discern, a blurring of vision. This ambiguous condition brings with it a temporary shift in perceptual awareness, where figure and ground merge and boundaries dissolve into a single field.

In a broader art historical context Snow Blind continues the dialogue of minimalist painters active in the 1970s, like Max Cole and Agnes Martin, whose work is defined by taut, regular grid lines. However, Walker’s grid in Snow Blind is an unruly and chaotic mass, replacing the subtle sensuousness of minimalist painting with a “grid” in the process of dematerializing. In that process he brings us closer to a moment of pure perception.

Bolton T. Colburn


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