Ingleby has exhibited the work of Antiguan artist Frank Walter for several years. Since his death in 2009, he has gained recognition as one of the most distinctive and talented Caribbean artists of the past 50 years. The Gallery now presents Frank Walter: Music of the Spheres, the first-ever exhibition to focus on his ‘spools’ series of artworks as part of the 2021 Edinburgh Art Festival.
The spools are oil paintings on various biocomposite materials, backed with Masonite (pressed hardboard), all materials readily available to the artist. Their circular shape is small and almost identical in size. His semi-abstract carved wooden sculptures of birds and sea creatures are also on display.
The exhibition is a small aspect of how the artist shared his vision with the world. Frank Walter was also a writer, photographer, environmentalist, composer, and philosopher. In his lifetime, he produced thousands of artworks, recordings and writing – all products of a unique, beautiful and curious mind.
Born in Antigua in 1926, Frank Walter created an immense body of work in his lifetime but was never exhibited until after his death. Ingleby was the first to show his work in a group exhibition curated in 2013, followed by several further group exhibitions. He has since had solo exhibitions with Ingleby, as well as in Dublin, Leeds, Venice Biennale, Frankfurt, New York and London.
The artist endured brutal racism and poverty during his eight years travelling and working around Europe, endlessly curious about his ancestral heritage. His genealogy included both aristocratic European slave owners and enslaved people of African descent. He had a special affection for Scotland after visiting in the early 1950s, following a dream about his ancestry. Eventually, he returned to Antigua to spend the last intensely creative decades of his life in isolation. Much of his work is focused and tuned in to the natural environment. He seemed to find balance in nature which echoed in the art he produced.
Although his works in the exhibition are untitled and undated, there is a descriptive name for each, for reference. All four Gallery walls are lined with a single row of spools, beautifully framed as if little portholes (as well as portals) into the artist’s imagination and perspective. This is thought to be inspired by time spent confined to a ship when refused entry into an English port.
One wall has a singular spool placed high above the others. Appropriately, this one is a crescent moon, Untitled (Crescent Moon).
Another wall displays figurative works with a colourful palette. The style is both modernist and medieval. This channels the timeless force of life as fruit, plants, animals and people line up as a snapshot of contemporary life.
An adjacent wall is lined with more abstract work in comparison – landscapes and seascapes with a pleasing horizon running across the central axis of each spool. These colours are muted and jewel-like; some feature distant birds in flight.
Another wall presents archetypal landscapes which blend abstraction and figuration: boats on water, coconut trees, houses, animals. Some are glossy; others matt and muted, depending on the material used.
Taking each wall in a clockwise direction, we find the fourth wall returning to a more figurative style. Animals and people are presented from a more personal perspective.
The spherical theme weaves through the curation: a spherical HR code to view the paintings online; hints to the cyclical harmony of nature and music; a sense of balance to the room. In the centre of the room sits a collection of semi-abstract sculptures – simply-shaped animals that Frank Walter carved from mahogany wood.
Some further spools are displayed in the Gallery hallway corridor. Mostly flowers and seascapes. A new book about the artist complements the exhibition, written by art historian and chronicler of his life, Barbara Paca.
Take some time to go upstairs to view another Frank Walter work held by the Gallery, the entirely rectangular Trunk Between Two Trees, oil on card.
This is a respectful and thoughtfully curated exhibition that displays these artistic gems to their greatest impact. Like a melodic rainbow spectrum, this charms and draws the viewer ever closer. This exhibition has been displayed the way that Frank Walter had visualised and expressed in writing. This makes it all the more poignant to know that he never lived to see this come to light. It is apt that he is sometimes called the Leonardo of Antigua. However, it feels as if we are meeting Frank Walter in person here, and he’s gifting us his story of life, in his own words, finally.
With grateful thanks to Artmag contributor Julie Boyne for this review.