Friday, February 24, 2012

Remembering Steve Walker

(hat tip to Xtra)
Canadian-born painter Steve Walker died at his home in Costa Rica on Jan 4, 2012. He was 50.  Walker was a self-taught artist who began painting after an inspirational trip to Europe when he was 25.   For his subjects, he chose to paint gay men, depicting the struggles and joys the gay community lived through in his lifetime, from the ongoing struggle for sexual liberation to the devastation wrought by HIV and AIDS. But he believed his subjects were universal, touching on themes of love, hate, pain, joy, beauty, loneliness, attraction, hope, despair, life and death.

"As a homosexual, I have been moved, educated and inspired by works that deal with a heterosexual context. Why would I assume that a heterosexual would be incapable of appreciating work that speaks to common themes in life, as seen through my eyes as a gay man? If the heterosexual population is unable to do this, then the loss is theirs, not mine,” Walker once said.

Walker was always grateful for the support he received from the gay community for his work. In recent years, his work has been exhibited in galleries in Toronto, Montreal, Los Angeles, Fort Lauderdale, Key West and Provincetown.   "Any minority wants and needs to find artistic voices that reflect their own personal situations, and, in doing so, validate and record their lives and cultures for themselves and for the larger world," he said.
I can't say I knew Steve. But I am very proud to say we were acquaintances.  I had the great good fortune to have met him three times. Always in Chicago. He would come and sign prints of his work at the North Halsted Market Days street festival on Chicago's Northside. I have one of those signed prints. It is his work entitled "Telling Him."

Like many people, during my own coming out process as a young Gay man, I found inspiration in Steve's work. In a way his work was the first "It Gets Better" message  I ever saw.  His depictions of Gay men just living their lives. Lives depicted with all the ups, downs and events that every life has. It was the first time I ever saw artwork that depicted that for people like... well... for people like me.

For Steve, like for so many Gays and Lesbians, coming to terms with his sexuality was an evolutionary process as opposed to a revelation—a not uncommon occurrence.

“I remember feeling a strange sense of elation upon having survived childhood, a rural environment, education, and the knowledge that my sexual orientation, (which was never a mystery or problem to me personally), would forever cause some people who never met me and would never know me, to hate me and others like me.” 

When I became involved in the San Francisco Pride Celebration I started using images of Steve's work in the promo videos we would show at volunteer trainings. When Eric and I were doing our long distance relationship, between San Francisco and  London, I created a video for a face book group of  bi-national same sex couples who were in the same situation. 

I posted a few of them on YouTube and was delighted to find out Steve saw them. This let to an exchange of emails over the next three years where he would share stories about the history of a particular painting that I had used in the videos.

With his passing, I am very grateful to have had the chance to tell him about the tremendous impact  his artwork had  on me.  Not just because it showed the commonalities of life and love that all people hope for. But because his work does so from an unapologetically Gay perspective.

Something that in a world overwhelmed with images of "Boy meets Girl", gave a young gay man growing up in South Central Wisconsin, hope that the world had room in it for me too.  Where the story could be one where "Boy meets Boy".

A funeral will be held at Our Lady of the Visitation Parish (5338 Bank St) in Ottawa on Feb 25 at 11am. It is anticipated that a memorial celebrating the life of Walker will be held in Toronto at a date still to be determined.

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