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‘Full Stop’, a painting by John A. Walker, oil on linen 140 x 100 cm (2006). I asked

various people - some of whom were laypeople and others artists, critics and

theorists - to interpret:

Viewer 1 says 'after a full stop, you start again'.

Viewer 2 says 'Magritte lands in Matisse'.

Viewer 3 says 'a black hole or shell, a life that is beautiful is being left behind'. Also:

‘I once had an experience like this, of entering the dark tunnel, after being stung by

a nest of bees. My world closed in on me like the lens of a camera and I knew that

was it. I was a bit sad when it turned out not to be permanent and I returned to the

land of the living. The other interesting aspect of that experience was the feeling of

peace and objectivity. This is also very present in your picture: as if the world was

being seen from the position of a ghost. I didn't get far enough to encounter any real

ghosts or angels (inhabitants of your white tomb stones). Next time.’

Viewer 4 wrote: ‘Well it seems to be about death but also about representation and

how there's nothing "behind" the picture plane but that's just off the top of my

head. Also about colour and lack of colour. ‘

Viewer 5 wrote: ‘Your new painting is very disturbing and I'm struggling to make

sense of my response to it. The black spot is straight out of 'Treasure Island' with all

its threatening associations and intimations. These are further emphasised

by the graveyard setting. Like most people of our age I think about the

approach of 'three score years and ten' and wonder what might carry me off

and when. It speaks of real fear but also resignation. I'm intrigued and also puzzled

by the red altar-like feature in the background and also by the California orange

grove landscape - an Eden to which we might hopefully return, perhaps? (We visited

the Eden Project in Cornwall while we were away, so possible association of ideas

here.) Or maybe the spot, especially in its central and imperative position at 'dead'

centre of the canvas is a barrier to that Eden?’

Viewer 6 wrote: ‘It's obviously difficult to comment on a photo of painting. not

being able to appreciate the paint etc. The symbolism of a black hole in what

appears to be a graveyard with nameless Victorian-style headstones beneath some

seemingly tropical trees might have

many connotations, not least because you've called it Full Stop ‹ the ultimate finish.

If it had been produced by someone who had no knowledge of art rather than

somebody educated in Lathamesque [ie John Latham, British artist] language, Full

Stop or first instance, it might have surreal overtones like a black ball/balloon or

other round object floating in a painted scene or a reference to seeing a black hole in

the image and possibly a personal statement about your attitude towards art and life

and signifying an end, to one or both. Knowing the producer has a history in

conceptual art, it could simply be a device to contradict what appears to be about

painting as picture and a painted sign as statement. I suggest you have reasoned

these and other readings, the implication being a linguistic dialectic, involving them
all, revolving around the notion of coming to a conclusion, as in The End, possibly to

suggest a new beginning. The point is, I'm not convinced as to its pictorial narrative,

it being too obviously a reference to Latham's full stop. As I said, a photo cannot

fully sum up seeing a painted surface. Hope your not contemplating the obvious,

simply suggesting a scenario to stimulate a problematic, especially to elicit a

psychological portrait of those who respond to what is seemingly obtuse imagery. As

it is, I am clearly considering the notion of flat-lining.’

Viewer 7 wrote: 'Current fashion is for painters to only to sign their works on the

reverse. As Walker's painting is conspicuously signed, the artist/writer is drawing

attention to himself, and deepening the correspondence between his own personal

identity and the depicted content of the painting. The work contains a dominating

full stop which indicates, literally, the centrality of text over art in the artist/writer's

life. It also, of course, signifies finality and, in conjunction with the graveyard

behind it, seems to suggest that the artist/writer (who is now retired, and ill), is

pondering his own mortality. It may be significant that the graveyard, which is lit by

a bright sun, and has luxuriant, almost tropical foliage, is a more joyous place

(hinting at a 'paradise') than the world of text (wordly conflict), and that in some

way Walker welcomes death. It is also significant that the author, who is known as a

Marxist materialist, depicts a place of burial, rather than cremation, with all the

connotations of religion that burial is more likely to have. In summary then, as the

artist/writer faces the enormity of dying, his materialist convictions become gently

displaced with a more soulful understanding of existence, with ideas of return to a

universal benevolence; a return to a personal creator/God (great artist)'.

Viewer 8 wrote 'with the title given and the image, I interpret it as a statement on

death, or an observation of its unremitting factuality. Death is a big black spot that I

can only see as a hole in the image and much more horrible than the images of

gravestones, which seem to suggest a rather prettified idea of an ending. Of course,

if I reflect some more, I think about full stops as grammatical entities and could get

all tricksy about death as end of language or language as a type of death (veering

into poststructuralist waters here) and I find it curious that despite the reference to

language there are no words on the gravestones. The picture exudes anonymity. It

also looks vandalised in a way, because of the black hole, like a magazine picture

with a hole cut in it.

My own commentary

The painting depicts, in a naturalistic/impressionistic fashion, a graveyard - one in

Esher, Surrey I pass virtually every day - upon which is superimposed a black disc -

the full stop of the title. A graveyard is a common emblem of death and has been

depicted by painters many times especially by those associated with Romanticism

and pre-Raphaelitism. (Personally I would prefer to be cremated rather than buried

because the latter seems a waste of land.) In my view death is the end of human life.

Since I am now old, death is ever present in my mind but I do not believe in an

afterlife or a heaven - hence the painting is an atheist’s response to Stanley

Spencer’s famous 1923-7 canvas ‘The Resurrection, Cookham’ (Tate Gallery), which
shows a churchyard with the graves giving up their dead at the time of the

Resurrection. Clearly, a Christian vision and the presence of Cookham church

emphasises this. Whereas in my picture there is no church although there is one

(disused) in the actual place. The headstones over the graves are so old they have

lost their inscriptions and so the people who are buried are now anonymous and

forgotten. No one living leaves flowers on their graves. This oblivion is the fate of the

vast majority of humankind. Meanwhile in the background nature continues to

renew itself.

In its mix of the pictorial and the linguistic the painting harks back to my 1965

painting of an orange placed in inverted commas. It is also informed by John

Latham’s 1961 painting ‘Full Stop’ - a black disc on a white ground - and by my

memory of van Gogh’s painting ‘Peasant cemetery’ Nuenen 1885, which has a

ruined stump of a church, which I discussed in my book of essays about Vincent.

The painting is also a mix of representation and abstraction. The black disc in the

centre of the composition acts as an interruption (a situationist tactic) - it blocks the

vision and ‘spoils’ the spectator’s enjoyment of the naturalistic landscape. (Death, of

course, is a rude interruption of the continuity of life.) This, of course, is deliberate.

Since the disc is flat, it also asserts the reality of the flat surface in contrast to the

illusionist depth of the landscape around it. A small earlier painting of mine

employed a similar contrast - ‘Grey painting with border’ 1971 (14 x 10 inches, oil

on canvas) - consists of a grey rectangle in the centre of the composition surrounded

by a border depicting the surface of the sea. The rectangle could be interpreted as a

hole in the sea. Thus the ‘painting’ is blank or abstract while its border is

representational - a reversal of the usual order of things.

THE PAINTER: John A. Walker (b. 1938, Lincolnshire, England) was trained as a

painter in a University art department in Newcastle upon Tyne from 1956 to 1961.

In 1958, he won first prize in a painting competition organised by Tyne Tees

Television (the judge was Lawrence Gowing). On graduation he moved to London

and worked in the Civil Service, public and art libraries, and for many years wrote

art criticism for a range of art magazines and taught art history in a number of

British art schools. Before he retired in 1999, he was Reader in Art and Design

History at Middlesex University. He has written 15 books and over 100 periodical

articles about van Gogh, John Latham, the fine arts and mass media, and visual

representations of firefighters. In 2005 he resumed painting after a gap of two



Univision Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne, 1958; The Gallery, London, 1975;

Chameleon, Weybridge, Surrey, 2005. View Gallery, Thames Ditton - April-June

2006; The Pitt Studio and Gallery, Worcester, March 2007.


Lincolnshire Art Association Annual exhibition 1956; Young Contemporaries 1958,

1959, 1960. London Group show 1965; Small Paintings exhibition, Wills Lane

Gallery, St Ives & Bulls Eye Gallery, Lichfield, 1972; 'Art & Society', Whitechapel

Art Gallery, 1976; Farnham Maltings Show, 1976; ‘Death Show’, Kettle’s Yard,

Cambridge, Dec 1987. 'Eat art' exhibition The Robert Phillips Gallery, Walton on

Thames, November 2005. 'Art below', (poster) London Underground, 2007. 'Life's a

beach', Artsite Gallery, Swindon, June 2007.

Exhibitions organized: 'Van Gogh in Provence' (Book & photo display) Camden

Public Library, 1970; 'Rosa Luxemburg & Karl Liebknecht’, Pentonville Gallery,

London, 1986.


Works in the collections of the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, Wolverhampton

Art Gallery and several private collections.

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