When CityBeat compiled the hundreds of submissions for our annual Fiction 101 contest, in which we invited readers to send us short stories of 101 words or fewer, there was one story that we all seemed to enjoy. In it, some girls go skinny-dipping in a Louisiana pond only to find out that a grizzled old farmer is watching them. From the water, they start yelling at him for being a pervert and asking why he's ogling them, to which he replies, “I'm here to feed the alligator.”
Funny enough, but there was a problem. The story was more than 101 words; in fact, it was 175 words, well in excess of the allotted amount. It was disqualified.
But anyone who knows the story's author, Rich Walker, probably understands that he rarely conforms to trifling matters such as rules. And while Walker would certainly characterize himself as a visual artist rather than a writer, he's yet to conform to any set structure of what an artist is or what an artist is supposed to do or be.
“I work every day, and every day I love it,” Walker says, sitting back in a chair in his Ocean Beach home. “I'm actually frustrated because, as much work as I do, I feel like I don't do enough. I need to do it. I don't have time to think about how I'm supposed to do it”
Almost resembling a gallery, nearly every inch of wall in Walker's house is covered with his abstract paintings, most of which are made from recycled and reclaimed wood and painted with leftover and donated paint. In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to find anything in the house that doesn't have Walker's touch. The shoes in his closet resemble a Jackson Pollack painting. The dining room table is a swirl of melding colors that Walker built with a friend.
In one corner of the room is a series of paintings, seven in all, assembled totem style with one on top of another. Each of the seven pieces is from one particular 24-hour period—Walker has committed to doing at least one painting a day and then assembling them together at the end of the week. Seeing the week's worth of paintings together can let the viewer speculate as to its creator's mindset that week. Some are coarse, with splotches of paint and unrefined lines, while others look like he made them during a particularly good week. He says he's going to do it for a year and has done 40 weeks' worth of paintings. That's 200 so far.
And if there's anything more ubiquitous than the art in his home (you can see some at www.rawartdesign.net), it's Walker himself. Nearly every weekend, he seems to pop up at whatever art event is happening. Unlike many other artists, who can be introverted and prefer to be alone while they work, Walker is a social butterfly, engaging anyone and everyone willing to talk.
“A lot of artists don't talk about their art because they don't get inspired to be artistic when they're happy or when they're social,” says Walker, whose work will appear throughout November at Thumbprint Gallery in North Park and at Mabubo Gallery in Solana Beach through Nov. 2. “They find solace in their art. I don't. I'd rather it be interactive. I'd rather paint live at venues than be by myself.”
Walker grew up in Massachusetts. At 23, he said he “took a ride” and ended up in San Diego two years later. That was 20 years ago. Since then, he's worked as a stand-up comedian and a chef and even once was offered a job as a dance instructor. Nowadays, he plays in a band called Swift Kick in the Nuts, co-owns a bar called Last Call in City Heights and builds a float every year for San Diego's Mardi Gras. Those quick to label would probably peg him as immature and indecisive, not only because he doesn't fit the mold of someone his age—late 40s—but because his ideas often seem bigger than what his resources might allow. He has a childlike aura, and his mind is racing constantly, which can seem inspiring to some, restless to others.
“There's almost too many things that I want to do,” he says. “There's not only things I want to accomplish as an artist, but as a human being. I'm seeing life better now that I'm an artist.”
One of those “things” is an artists' park, where artists would be free to work on or sell their work. There would also be a huge concrete wall that would be painted, then, after awhile, covered up and repainted again. Walker knows that tagging and graffiti would be an issue, but he's already assembling a proposal for the San Diego City Council. Another passion project is a giant installation piece he wants to display at the annual Coachella Music and Arts Festival in Indio—400 paintings at various lengths and widths assembled together at 40 feet tall in an octagonal pattern. There would be mirrors and a solar-lighting setup on pendulums inside the piece so that, at night, with the wind blowing through the cracks of the piece, it would look like it's breathing. Oh, and he's also working on a graphic-novel painting, a 10-by-24-foot piece he wants displayed at Comic-Con that would tell an entire story.
Who's to say any of this will actually happen. In any case, pragmatism isn't Walker's bag. He knows his dreams are big, yet he doesn't care if things don't work out in the way he envisions, and he thinks other local artists should feel the same way.
“You know what I've never understood,” Walker asks. “Even as an artist, I'm not always aware that there's art here in town. I want San Diego to find its own identity. I want the artists in San Diego to say, ‘Hey, we're all working together.' All the artists need to say, ‘I'm a force. I want to be a force.'”
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