Frank Walter, born Francis Archibald Wentworth Walter, was a visionary artist and prolific polymath. He worked across a range of media, including miniature landscapes, abstract paintings, portraits, and sculptures.Read More
Born in Antigua in 1926, Frank Walter broke the race barrier to become the first black manager of the Antiguan Sugar Syndicate when he was just 22. In 1953, he was offered the prestigious position of running the entire operation. He declined and instead travelled to Britain and Europe to study new advanced mining and agricultural techniques. Once there, however, Walter faced deep-rooted racism and indifference that forced him to take menial jobs.
Frank Walter harboured a lifelong obsession with his heritage, which he believed to trace back to the royal families of Europe through slave-owning ancestors. This unlikely genealogical tree included Charles II of England, who in 1960 instructed the artist to go to Scotland in a dream. Walter also adopted for himself the title of the Seventh Prince of the West Indies, Lord of Follies and the Ding-Ding Nook.
Walter's paintings, many of them untitled and undated, can be roughly categorised into landscapes, portraits, and abstract explorations. Mostly painted on the back of Polaroid cartridges, his miniature landscapes capture the colours and atmosphere of Scotland and Antigua resurrected from memory. Both real and imagined scenes are the subjects of his portraits, which include scenes such as Hitler playing cricket with Antiguan men or the artist drifting on a boat.
Walter's abstract paintings have been known to reflect his interest in the universe. In a 2020 Ocula Magazine 'In Focus' article, Stephanie Bailey described the six oil paintings on wooden panels that comprise the 'Milky Way Galaxy Series' as 'celestial dramas characterised by golden yellows that recall luminous details in church frescoes.'
Upon returning to Antigua in 1961, Walter faced further disappointments, as his discoveries from overseas travel were ignored while friends and family grew distant. The artist retreated to an estate in Dominica, tending to the land and carving around 600 sculptures that were inspired by animals and the Arawak people. Walter left Dominica when the government seized the land in 1968, finding a temporary home in the city of St. John's.
Walter finally settled on Bailey's Hill in 1993, where he stayed until his death in 2009. In isolation, he produced a vast body of work. Beyond 5,000 paintings and 1,000 drawings, more than 50,000 pages and notes, as well as over 450 hours of tape recordings remain. They engage with subjects as various as philosophy, genealogy, political science, poetry, and history.
As Walter remained largely obscure for most of his lifetime, his work has been slow to receive international recognition. In 2015, Edinburgh's Ingleby Gallery organised Frank Walter: a major solo exhibition of the artist's paintings. Launched at the Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt, in 2020, Frank Walter: A Retrospective placed the artist's work in conversation with contemporary artworks by John Akomfrah, Julien Creuzet, and Howardena Pindell, among others.
Water's has been exhibited twice in the Antigua and Barbuda Pavilion of the Venice Biennale. Frank Walter: The Last Universal Man 1926–2009 inaugurated the Pavilion in 2017, followed by his inclusion in the group exhibition Find Yourself: Carnival and Resistance in 2019. Cultural envoy to Antigua and Barbuda Barbara Paca curated both exhibitions. An art historian who interviewed Water across seven years, Paca has worked since 2003 with the artist's family and specialists to preserve his legacy.
Sherry Paik | Ocula | 2020