Walter Askin invites us into his home, into his gallery, into his workspace with the gentlest of smiles, voice, and…essence? His movements aren’t slow, they’re just relaxed in a measured way, a bit like how he speaks. And he speaks a lot. His voice soothing, his humor slid in like a secret note being passed hand to hand under desks in the classroom, making us laugh, taking us by surprise.
We could have filled multiple notebooks with the background and life stories and adventures we heard. But it is hard to take notes when the eyes want to constantly engage. On Walter and his wife Elise’s grounds, in a side room in a building off the parking area, they have made a cozy sitting area surrounded by Walter’s sculptures, drawings, and paintings. This home gallery-slash-museum feels as though we should be wearing house slippers while sipping Macallan’s.
Crossing the drive area that has large, colorful iron sculptures, we walk through their charming little courtyard that includes a table, chairs, and umbrella, and more sculptures and whimsical art. The building that Walter bought way back in the 70s is the first building constructed by a African-American businessman in 1924. The Other Place Cafe and the Bluebird Inn used to inhabit this site, as well as a beauty parlor, lawyer’s office, and a realtor.
The building now accommodates a small, intimate, and adorable kitchen, their private living area, and an almost filled-to-capacity work room where Walter and Elise read, write, muse, draw, and paint. The coup de grâce is the large, high ceiling gallery room off the kitchen that is chocker block full with Walter’s paintings and drawings. From small 11 x 14-inch pieces to massive 10 foot works, the walls are crowded without being overwhelming, while more art pieces (all matted and framed) sit on the floor, leaning against all of two walls, five, ten, even fifteen works deep. It’s a smorgasborg, a gold mine, Askin art nirvana. We could have kept sipping tea, listening, and looking at Walter’s work until the sun went down, and probably until it came back up again.
Walter began his art life right here in Pasadena. He told Paul Karlstrom in a 1992 interview that the small rented house in which he and his family lived had a rose-pattern wallpaper. “I had taken to drawing small figures and boats and things inside of the roses,” Walter said.
With permission? Karlstrom asked.
Walter: Oh, no. [Laughter] No, as a matter of fact, my mother was talking with a salesman at the door one day, and she hadn’t scrutinized the wallpaper very carefully up until that time. She was not interested in what he was saying, but she did start to see what was happening in her wallpaper. When the salesman left, she let me know in no uncertain terms, and probably with some application to the backside, that this was not to happen. I felt that something that made such a wonderful, kindly, generous, good, and giving person so angry must be extremely powerful. And I really became committed to art, in part, through that experience. (Archives of American Art)
Re: Vincent Surfing. Jean Paul Pou, retired hearing aid manufacturer; sorting through the attic of his condo-conversion in Arles discovered what many experts believe is a unique self-portrait by Vincent Van Gogh depicting himself riding a wave. While some quibble that Arles is 15 kilometers from the Mediterranean, others believe that this painting shows the noted painter catching a curl of the River Rhone during a rare tidal surge.
Walter earned a B.A. and M.A. at University of California, Berkeley. He also attended the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art at Oxford University, England. He’s been exhibiting in solo and groups shows since 1956 and his work has been displayed across the nation from MOMA and the Whitney in New York City to the Norton Simon here in Pasadena and Kauai Museum in Hawaii; from all over Europe to the 8th Annual Biennial in Taipei, Taiwan. Walter has art pieces in 57 selected institutional collections. As early as 1961, he received the Purchase Prize (one of many) at the 10th Annual San Gabriel Valley Artists Exhibition, Pasadena Art Museum (currently the Norton Simon Museum). He’s received grants, awards, and been an artist-in-residence at Tamarind, as well as at Athens School of Fine Arts in Mykonos, Greece, just to name a few. He’s been a visiting lecturer at Berkeley, the University of New Mexico, taught at California State University Los Angeles, president of the Los Angeles Printmaking Society, and organizer and co-chair of the 2nd International Conference on Humor in Art. He was also artist representative for the academic council of the College Board in New York.
Walter and Elise have traveled the world and everywhere, every day, Walter creates. His prolificacy is astounding.
With ArtNight just days away, we are writing to tell attendees of Friday night’s events to keep an eye out for Walter’s new book True Fictions.
An incredibly clear guide to the art museum experience designed to entice, seduce, and provoke its art loving and viewing audience into a fuller, more rounded, and deeper comprehension of the working patterns and behavioral modes found in the various professions in the visual arts. (Official text)
Felicity Otter of Ashram Arts sums the book up as “Meditations and revelations about the myths and rituals found in current art,” while Odious Sneerwell at the Center for Arts Criticism declares True Fictions “The essential text for art professionals.”
That is true, and it is so much more:
A treasure trove of fantasies with hints of whimsey. (Sylvia Wachersnit, Oasis Arts Newsletter)
Informative revelations and visual fandango on every page. (Augustus Torlac, Nuart News of New York)
Better than three years in art school. (Witwood Frebble, Art Shark International)
In conclusion, Walter kindly answered a few questions:
HP: How did you come up with this idea for True Fictions? What were your thoughts about the product you wanted to produce? What did you want to share with the reader? Humor, insights, knowledge? What was the impetus for doing this now?
Viewers, especially artists, look to art for revelatory sustenance and imaginative re-invigoration. They seek out shows and publications and are consistently left empty.
This publication gives a peek into the ideas governing the contemporary art scene to provide a view of the sources of this phenomena.
True Fictions is a compilation of notebook jottings over the past decade and follows several previous publications – Another Art Book to Cross Off Your List, Womsters and Foozlers- Revelatory Snippets Pertaining to Dips, Dorks, Dweebs & Diplomas, and several others.
Creating an illustrated work is an enjoyable, liberating and vengeful thing to do in the morning when you first get up and your mind is filled with the bounty of revelations found in sleep…
True Fiction: The Search for Ecstasy in the Rubble of Contemporary Culture, Alas…Being an Aesthetic Ramble to Various Points of View Including the Amazing Wonders of Wobblevision – another digression by Walter Askin may be found at The Norton Simon Museum, The Huntington Library, Vroman’s Bookstore, and Pasadena Museum of California Art.