Portraiture in All Media
J Michael Walker’s work counters erasure, misrepresentation, and marginalization through portraiture illuminating the spiritual essence of women of color and other marginalized people. For Walker, creating beautiful, dignified, connecting images of people who oftentimes go unheralded through the world has value and meaning.
Apart from the lone small fresco portrait, all of these painted works belong to my ongoing series, "Honoring Our Elders," which are large-scale portraits (five feet high) of the elders of my second home, in the Sierra Tarahumara of northern Mexico, where I’ve maintained a home and familial connections for 40 years.
Although hardship is etched in the faces of these 70-90 year old’s, there is an innate sweetness and kindness burning bright in their eyes.
The portraits are all painted with bamboo brush and acrylic washes on polypropylene paper.
I’ve been drawing since forever; drawing is my foundational medium, and wax-based color pencils are my preferred tool.
The majority of drawings here were inspired by my Sacatar Institute fellowship on the island of Itaparica, Bahia, Brazil, in 2011 - a place that is really the heart of the African Diaspora for South America.
During my two months there, I painted a mural at the villagers’ request, and was welcomed into the community. I had brought along the tattered pages of a book about Brazil, on which I began drawing portraits of the Afro-Brazilian women I befriended – a folio-sized book that, it turned out, was the colonial history of Brazil, and thus the women emerge from and assume power over that history of colonization and enslavement.
Another large drawn portrait is of Fara Isabel, a woman I met in Havana, Cuba, who runs a community arts center in an abandoned building; I drew her portrait on the maps of a 1970 Cuban atlas purchased in Havana.
And there are two portraits of my wife Mimi, my inspiration and support.
Photo and Photo-based Portraits
Like many artists, I frequently use photographs as reference for my drawing and painting. But over the
past decade I have also been using photography as an end in itself, crafting photographic portraits.
Here are six portraits, of friends and acquaintances in Southern California, South Africa, and Brazil. All are isolated before a simple black cloth, with only the simplest of props. Additionally, all photographic portraits are shot using only available sunlight.
There are also three mixed-media photographic portraits of people I met and photographed while working on public art projects in Skid Row with LAMP between 2000 and 2015. These individuals were photographed with their permission, their image reworked with painting and digital embellishment.
And posted between those two forms are three photomontage portraits, created upon and inspired by late 19th and early 20th century photographs, imagining the inner lives of the subjects. They form part of my ongoing series, "Dreams of the Nearness World."