Tale of two styles

Walker Roman shifts between realism and abstraction in Pathways exhibit.


Pathways Arts has undertaken a series of art shows incorporating artist talks this year. Currently, the organization is featuring the work of painters Walker Roman and Kristin Texeira, two artists with very different styles. Texeira creates bold, colorful images featuring solid-colored geometric figures and linear elements. An accomplished painter and muralist, she describes her output as “memory maps — abstractions full of symbols and colors that tell of a particular place and time.”

Roman, on the other hand, takes a much more subtle, less distinct approach in his work. He switches back and forth between realism and abstraction, noting that people who are familiar with his work in one style are often surprised to see that there is a very different side to his creative process. Both styles are included in the current show.

“I’ve always thought of the relationship between the two [abstraction and realism] as a continuum,” says Roman. “The presence of one doesn’t have to doesn’t have to negate the other. The abstract work becomes more interesting when it evokes something that does exist.”

In his artist’s statement for the Pathways show, Roman writes, “I feel painting is most successful when they bleed into one another, when a familiar subject gains a sense of mystery by selectively removing details, or a gestural abstraction begins to remind us of something we’ve seen before.”

By viewing Roman’s two styles side by side, one can get an idea of what he’s talking about. On close inspection of realist landscapes like “Dune Walker” or “Great Pond Study,” you can see that the artist intentionally pared down details to create an image that is readily identifiable yet minimalist to some extent.

His abstract work most certainly evokes landscapes — stormy oceans, icebergs, rugged terrain come to mind. However, what one is really looking at is gestural images built up through a combination of oil, resin, and graphite on polypropylene, in various shades of gray, with a touch here and there of pastel peach. When Roman showed this series at the Workshop a few years ago, he wrote of the paintings, “While sharing the minimalist desire for reduction, the work stops short of completely erasing anything recognizable, and instead alludes to familiar surfaces such as wet asphalt and polished concrete, suggesting that such purity of observation is not exclusive to art, but can be accessed anywhere.”

These abstract paintings start to have qualities of realism: They have space, they have atmosphere, they have light — things we would expect to see in a landscape painting.

One could say that the abstracts are actually more dramatic and active than the representational landscapes, featuring simple, static scenes. Yet even within the latter, there is often a sense of mystery or foreboding, a narrative to be discovered. In “Dune Walker” (a play on words?), Roman presents a view of an up-Island beach with the lengthened shadow of a man cast across the sand. The man is the focus of the painting, yet his image is completely obscured in shadow.

“I started painting just the shadows of figures a couple of years ago,” says Roman. “What I really like is the way the shadow implies the presence of a figure outside of an image. The scope of the image expands. The subject itself is both inside and outside of the painting.”

Also included in the exhibit are a couple of colorful abstract paintings — an acrylic and silkscreen print in shades of pinky-red, and an oil painting, mysteriously titled “Cannibal Resource,” that features a swirls of vibrant blue with the color bleeding into an area in the center of the swirl.

With this work, Roman was experimenting with the properties of light. He notes that he was influenced by the old masters in creating this piece. “It reminds me of the way in Dutch portraiture that the light comes from within,” he says. “There’s a sense of light radiating outward. It’s interesting how we can make this intellectual leap from portrait painting to this big blue circle.”

Roman describes himself as a lifelong learner, interested in all branches of science and how things like optics, chemistry, and engineering can play into his work. “I think if there’s any one thing that describes my practice, it’s that I’m a serial student. I always want to learn something new and see how it applies to my practice,” he says.

This is the first time that the artist has had the opportunity to view his work in various styles and from various points in his career displayed as a collection.

“I had never imagined all of this work hanging together,” he says. “A few of them had been in my parents’ attic for 10 years. It’s been kind of clarifying for me to see them all together. I get this glimpse of myself. There’s a lot more cohesion in what I’m doing than I would have thought.”

Pathways hosted an artists talk with Walker Roman and Kristin Texeira on Sunday. You can watch the video of the event, and view the exhibit online, at pathwaysmv.org. The show will hang through April.