John Walker was born in Birmingham, England in 1939, where he studied at the Birmingham College of Art. He was soon awarded prizes for his work, including the Arts Council Drawing prize and the Abbey Traveling Scholarship, which allowed him to move to Paris to study at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière from 1961–1963. After winning a Harkness Fellowship in 1969, Walker divided his time between England and the United States for the next 10 years, teaching at Cooper Union, New York, Yale University, the Royal College of Art, London, and St. Catherine’s College. In 1979, he moved to Australia as an artist-in-residence at Prohan Technical College, Melbourne. Walker returned to Yale University as a visiting professor in 1989 and currently teaches at Boston University.
Walker’s early paintings, however, were figurative in style until 1959, when he was exposed to American postwar abstract painters such as Jackson Pollock. This was a turning point in Walker’s career. Walker shifted his emphasis to abstract expressionism, emphasizing the painterly quality and using expressive brush strokes to create a new and dramatic rendering of space and surface. Walker’s paintings of the late 1970s and early 1980s shifted thematic emphasis to include art historical references, drawing upon artists such as Diego Velázquez, Francisco Goya, and Henri Matisse. In the mid 1980s, Walker began to explore ways to make images that were not representational but somehow conveyed the dramatic and imaginative capabilities of painting. Walker used motifs derived from or influenced by literary sources such as the Bible, but he resists any narrative interpretation of his work, preferring to emphasize the language of painting itself rather than its use of images or symbols. Highly acclaimed internationally and widely collected, Walker has been recognized as one of the most complex and accomplished painters of his generation. The Phillips Collection owns five works and held exhibitions of Walker’s paintings in 1978, 1982, and 2002.