W. Ralph Walters first came to my attention through postings on The Art and Artists of 614 Facebook page. Then I got to meet him and see more of his art in person when interviewing Art Party’s founder, Tona Pearson, at the Party’s 400 West Rich Street studio. I became enthralled with his art because of it’s surrealistic but very realistic portrayals of people, creatures and more. I knew I wanted to learn more about him and his art so we “talked” over the net and just recently met in person at 400.
Ralph is a very active member of the Art Party and practically lives at the studio that he and several other members rent at 400 W. Rich. His paintings adorn one of the walls of the studio along with several works in progress on easels. He is self-taught and is lucky enough to make a living as an artist after years of temp work in class action hotline work. Primarily creating album covers for doom metal bands, he works as a free lance artist creating covers, T-shirts, tour posters and fliers for bands that mainly originate in the UK. Usually, he messages bands he likes asking to do art for their projects but he is getting approached more often now that more bands have seen his work. There are several bands that he really loves and he feels that getting to do artwork for them “really speaks to the music geek in me.” Although he has created for various national and international bands, he has also done art for a lot of local metal bands. To date he has done posters, t-shirts, and album covers for Traitors Return To Earth, Druglord, Brimstone Coven, Groan, Pombagira, Astralnaut, Baleful Creed, Nocturnal Trip, Thorr-Axe, Thanasphere, Lawbringer, to name a few. He particularly is drawn to doom metal/stoner and rock/occult rock bands explaining that the doom metal genre is equivalent to picturing Black Sabbath as a genre of music rather than just a band with a very seventies rock influence.
Ralph’s been drawing and painting since the age of two in Franklinton, Lousiana (is this synchronicity since this is the name of the area where his studio is??? hmmmm) but he can’t really remember what motivated this other than a toddler’s desire to create. He drew more than painted because of severe color-blindness (protanopic- red cones in his eyes don’t work with green and blue trying to approximate the color red), having a fear that he would screw up painting. All colors are not as bright or brilliant for him because red looks darker to him and, yes, this affects all colors in the spectrum…fascinating! His kindergarten teacher believed that he was innately ‘lazy’ because he read the colors off the crayons so she was bound and determined to rip all of the papers off them so he would be forced to learn his colors–what the hell was her problem; he could read at age 3!!!! Subsequently, he was tested and found to be color blind.
However, over the years , he learned to overcome that fear and found ways to compensate (seriously, you’re color blind, Ralph??? Who would know???) He always wanted to paint and did more modern art with garish colors because colors didn’t matter as much. He met a another color blind artist who did work for Maker’s Mark and, being the inquisitive guy he is, asked him how in world he could do this without actually being able to ‘see’ the colors. What he learned was that if he viewed creating paint tones as a recipe (he loves to cook!) with one part this color to two parts another color and so forth, he could get the colors that he desired on a consistent basis without being able to actually ‘see’ them. He has developed his own ‘cheats’ over the years and swears by Golden’s Acrylic Glazing Liquid (Satin)…he was way of cheating his color blindness. BTW, he states that most artists have cheats!
Being what he says was a weird and hyper little kid, learning how to read at an early age, being fascinated with overlays and medical drawings, creative work was a natural. His mom had a huge collection of art books that included surrealistic paintings (Dali and Frida Kahlo were prominent in his first forays into visual arts) that fed his creative leanings…the depth of emotion, the pain, the heartbreak, the depression spoke to him even though he didn’t really understand the emotions at such a tender age. Around the age of 6, he became a total Hitchcock freak when seeing Spellbound for the first time…particularly the final scene with the view of the gun pointing initially away from the villain. All of these left an indelible impression upon him and helped mold the artist he has become.
He did at one point attempt to attend art classes in Louisiana but gave up after becoming frustrated by roadblocks from professors (one said that he should find another major since he was color blind…thank heavens, Ralph didn’t listen!) and the lack of ‘real world’ teaching. Seems that whatever techniques he did learn didn’t really translate into the art he wanted to create.
When asked to categorize his art, Ralph stated:
Technically, I suppose it’s most akin to pop surrealism, save the images are representations of things in history, mythology, conspiracy theory, etc. I find it fascinating what people choose to believe. I worked for a conspiracy theory magazine for a few years and got to illustrate the strangest stuff. I couldn’t get over that some of these beliefs were shared not by hundreds, not thousands, but tens of thousands of people. It really shaped the subject matter I choose to paint. I’m also a huge fan of Byzantine through Renaissance iconography, which lends itself well to the subject matter.
He has been and continues to be inspired by Todd Schorr an American artist who is one of the most prominent members of the “Lowbrow” art movement aka pop surrealism. I researched Schorr and found a description of his work as: “combining a cartoon influenced visual vocabulary with a highly polished technical ability, based on the exacting painting methods of the Old Master, Schorr weaves intricate narratives that are often biting yet humorous in their commentary on the human condition.” Ralph believes that Schorr is the best and most meticulous artist in this movement, using acrylics like oils; starting with an under painting and glazing on color later. I asked him to explain what he meant by under painting and was pleased that he not only explained it but showed me! Basically, this entails painting a complete work in black, raw umber and white. Once this is completed, he mixes colored paint with glaze and glazes over areas of his work, usually beginning with blue tones. As he goes along, he may add more layers of the glaze to intensify the color and, finally, goes back in to complete the work with black and white. Very cool to watch and pretty amazing that this can help him deal so much more efficiently with his visual impairment. He took inspiration from this technique and started working in this way which quadrupled his speed and helped him work around his color blindness (again, who would know from looking at these samples of his work??) He also stated that part of his process is reading and researching subject matter before actually putting paint on canvas.
Recently, he is curated the Dark Love themed art show on Valentine’s Day, along with Tona and Randy Pearson, held at the gallery at 400 West Rich Street and was so busy curating that he didn’t get to show his own new piece here.In addition, he is working on his first solo show themed Goddesses of War in Los Angeles at the Hive Gallery on June 7th fulfilling Number One on his bucket list! He will be creating about 35 paintings of models he has chosen to depict goddesses including Tona Pearson as Durga, several Hindu, Greek and other cultural women of war. He is also In middle of some commissioned work for a couple of band album covers and in talks with another band about beginning work for them. I got to see the beginnings of his goddess works and am in awe of how gorgeous they already are…can’t wait to see the finished products…I know this guy is gonna be a VERY busy artist for the next 2 1/2 months!Contact for readers: