The Paradox of Spontaneity

John R. Walker, On the Bank, 2006

In On the bank John R Walker paints the banks of the Hunter River at Maitland. The rooftops and spires of the city fill the top quarter of the canvas while the expanse of the river dominates the painting’s middle section, painted in swipes of earthy olive to convey the muddy water and its reflection of the swathes of green grass above. The banks and buildings are overlaid with scumbled marks of colour that reveal the hand of the artist, who has said ‘I like to walk around and look at the scene and then quickly put down my immediate response’.

John R Walker is a Braidwood-based artist who works predominantly in landscape. His paintings are often on a massive scale, leading him to work, like many Indigenous Australian artists and like Jackson Pollock, the American abstract expressionist, on the floor. He can be seen working this way in another painting of the same riverbank by Euan Macleod. In Maitland – John & Leo, also in the collection of Maitland Regional Art Gallery (MRAG), Walker is depicted in action as he leans over his earth-bound canvas.

Walker’s work aims to capture the physical and psychological experience of being on the land, in the landscape; not the experience of viewing it from a distance. In this sense, he captures immersion rather than detachment, and impression rather than representation. Walker’s response to the landscape may appear to be unfiltered and spontaneous, but as he has stated, it is the result of careful thought and preparation:

‘The paradox of spontaneity is that it’s impossible. You can’t be deliberately spontaneous, full stop. It’s one of those things that just happens, but also to do it you have to be really, really calculating, you have to do an awful lot of thought and preparation…to try and visualise the thing, to make it real. You can’t deliberately be spontaneous. It’s like ‘grace’. It just happens, it’s not determined. It’s not earnt, it just falls from heaven. Paint does the thinking. If you’re lucky something completely unexpected comes out.’