by Judith Christensen
(Hello Artichoke, Santa Monica) The title of Cheryl Walker's exhibition, Navigating the Nacreous, refers to the lustrous quality of mother-of-pearl that is found inside some shellfish, particularly oysters. To Southern Californians the iridescence of abalone shells is a familiar association that evokes an image of the 1950s, when plentiful abalone shells served as ashtrays on the suburban family patio. Attitudes towards the shellfish, suburbia, the family and smoking have altered sharply over the subsequent forty years. It is this evolution which brings us back to the work exhibited here. Walker's small (6 x 4 1/2") oil pastel pieces are sensual, but their sensuality is a vehicle for exploring a more complex issue: Transformation.
Walker's images are evocative but ambiguous. Without knowing its title, the form in Dancing Starfish #1 could be seen as an orchid or a seed pod just as readily as a starfish. In fact, the Dancing Starfish series could have been called, Red Leaf Dance, and vice versa. The blue, indicative of ocean in several Dancing Starfish images, could represent sky for example. Likewise, the rich reds that dominate the Red Leaf Dance series are suggestive of plankton, particularly those that cause the red tide.
What is not ambiguous in this work is the strong organic quality. Walker's long, loose, gestural marks, notably in Red Leaf Dance #4, give the form a sense of flowing impermanence, as if it might break apart at any moment. In the background, these marks suggest movement. The wind comes to mind in the Red Leaf Dance pieces; ocean currents in the Dancing Starfish series. Both wind and currents, fundamental in determining weather, move in cyclical patterns, patterns which regulate the generation, birth, growth and decline of plants and animals.
Another series here reinforces this interpretation. Primary forms in the Origin series are shaped like a calla lily. The well-protected center, the pistil, origin of the next generation, is the compositional focus. This form also resembles a womb.
In the Flesh and Blood series the womb image is even stronger. The colors--blends of sienna, umber, red and pink--are, appropriately, those of flesh and blood. Although the forms refer ambiguously to various organs,it is the womb that is the most strongly alluded to.
The ebb and flow of currents, the cyclical nature of weather and of life itself echoes the themes of Walker's site-specific earthworks in the sand along the Calfornia coastline. Impermanent, subject to the vicissitudes of tides as well as human traffic, they are like the forms in these oil pastels.
In the Ecuador series, executed recently, the theme of transformation can be extended. Explorations of life cycles within the South American rain forests lead to thoughts about the status of the forests themselves and the changes they are undergoing. Whether this concern--the transformation inherent in environmental and cultural perspectives--is gaining more significance in Walker's work, only the future will reveal.
"Dancing Star Fish #1",
oil pastel, 6"x4-1/2", 1995.
"Flesh and Blood #1",
oil pastel, 6"x4-1/2", 1997.
"Ecuador Series #2",
oil pastel, 9"x6", 1997.