"Moona Lisa", 2007
Our artist of the week: Nick Walker
Do you think the British graffiti art scene is basically about Banksy, and then the rest? Think again. Indeed, the whole Bristol underground scene from which the latter originated might not have been quite as strong without the presence of Nick Walker.
Not only has Walker brought a whole new meaning to the term 'from rags to riches' through his journey from just another British graffiti-sprayer to a respected art world figure who has made millions from his paintings and prints, but he is also not one to forget his roots, remaining a resident of Bristol to this day. To be fair to Walker, the city has long ceased to be any kind of cultural backwater, having also hosted the seminal local graffiti art event, See No Evil in 2011 - in which he was a key participant. (Source: Independent)
It was at this event that many were introduced to the figure of a quintessential bowler-hatted gentleman 'vandal' on the side of a Nelson Street tower block, an image with which Walker has become synonymous. Such a figure, who surfaces often in Walker's paintings, even once appeared in a music video by The Black Eyed Peas, signalling the extent to which this unassuming artist has permeated the international cultural consciousness.
Back in the early 1980s, however, the Bristol art and graffiti scene was only just emerging, effectively started by Robert Del Naja, a member of the local collective 'The Wild Bunch' and later, one of the band Massive Attack's founding members. Walker's early creations at this time were a forerunner of the graffiti art phenomenon that would later spread across Britain, and by the later 1990s, such was his renown that he was invited by Stanley Kubrick to recreate New York's graffiti'd streets for what turned out to be the legendary director's last film, Eyes Wide Shut in 1999. (Source: The Telegraph)
Walker's transition from merely subversive urban outsider to still-just-as-subversive darling of the serious collectors continued into the 2000s. A particular flashpoint was the sale of a spray-painted work, Moona Lisa - depicting Leonardo's fabled La Giaconde bearing her bottom - for an unexpected £54,000 at auction in 2006. When Walker went on to sell £750,000 worth of work at a solo exhibition at Black Rat Gallery in London just a few years later - an event greeted by overnight campers outside the gallery - his transformation could be declared complete. (Source: Bloomberg)
However, take one look at a body of work that remains as provocative as ever, and you would never have thought Nick Walker had become an art world establishment figure. Indeed, perhaps he never has become one - and that might be just the way we like it.