Study for Luke's blue 1976 was painted following Walker's powerful and indicatively titled Juggernaut series of 1973-1976. The artist was acclaimed for his reinterpretation of the Cubist collage and in 1976 won first prize at the John Moores biennial exhibition at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool, with Juggernaut with plume - for Pablo Neruda 1974-1976.
At the time Walker explained his approach in a number of interviews:
All I want from the collage is that structural feeling. It enables me to feel the structure while I'm doing the painting. …I use it to move in the painting. I can work off it. If I want five miles of space or five inches, it allows me to do that.
The shapes are stapled on, just placed there until I've got what I want. I never work on the floor or with the painting unstretched. I always work vertically so as to be in conversation with the picture, to be able to see the painting.
I constantly try to produce that exact quantity of colour to the quantity of shape in order to express, to make an idealisation. I don't think I'm worrying about the edge too much but I want the shapes to be meaningful. If I can get them meaningful I know the picture will work.
As has been observed by a number of commentators, it is difficult to isolate a point where the Juggernauts end, as many of the visual characteristics that define this important series surface in subsequent paintings, such as Study for Luke's blue. Its current title however, Study for Luke's blue, suggests a temporal relationship or development towards a later work Luke's blue 1976, which is slightly larger than the study, with variations in the composition. Luke's blue was one of four paintings exhibited by the artist at the Cunningham Ward Gallery in New York in November-December 1976.
It should be noted that Walker has cautioned against such a simplistic causal interpretation, stating:
You can't reproduce a little painting big. I enjoy that change of pace in painting. The scale-jumps are a phenomena of the size; that's why a lot of big paintings look terrible, artists take something which works basically on one scale and try and reproduce it big. Hopefully my small paintings are painted for themselves and have a particular kind of space.
Study for Luke's blue occupies a pivotal position, being both closely aligned to the preceding Juggernauts series, as well as a precursor, if not a direct 'study' for, Luke's blue. Study for Luke's blue encapsulates the elements that drew critical attention to the artist's work both in Europe and the United States in the early 1970s.
Walker began to reintroduce 'figurative' elements into his work in the late 1970s and in recent years has returned to the subject of his father's experiences as a soldier during the First World War. A series of etchings on the subject was acquired by the National Gallery of Australia and exhibited in The Universal Soldier: John Walker's Passing Bells in 2000.
- 'John Walker interviewed by Tony Godfrey and Adrian Searle', Artlog no.1, 1978, p.22
- 'John Walker interviewed by David Sweet', Artscribe no.12, June 1978, pp.23-24
- 'John Walker interviewed by Tony Godfrey and Adrian Searle', op. cit., p.19
- 'John Walker interviewed by David Sweet', op. cit., p 24
- Adrian Lewis attempted to distinguish the phases in Walker's oeuvre in Adrian Lewis, 'John Walker', Artscribe no.31, October 1981, pp.28-30
- These crossovers between series identified by Adrian Lewis are further evident with Study for Luke's blue 1976, as when it was purchased it was known as Study May 1976. A similar confusion surrounded Walker's Juggernaut X 1975, exhibited as Untitled August 1975 in Arte Inglese oggi, 1960-1976, Palazzo Reale, Milan, 1976.
- For a review of the exhibition see Dore Ashton, 'John Walker', Arts Magazine vol.51 no.4, December 1976, p 6; Luke's blue 1976 was included in the exhibition John Walker, The Phillips Collection, Washington DC, 20 May -18 June 1978, and is now held in the Cleveland Museum of Art.
- 'John Walker interviewed by Tony Godfrey and Adrian Searle', op. cit., p.20
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010