Barely published, mostly unknown and rarely recognized, local abstract artist, Richard Guy Walton, has work plastered on the walls as part of the John and Geraldine Lilley Museum of Art.
Anthony Shafton, the author of Walton’s biography “A Nevada Life: Richard Guy Walton”, pushed for Walton’s work to get more recognition. Students can see it on display at the University of Nevada, Reno in the Church Fine Arts building.
“[Walton] wanted very much to appeal to the young,” Shafton told The Sagebrush. “And the fact that the young people of that generation didn’t respond to him really discouraged him and he quit painting for a number of years.”
It seems Walton’s appeal to the younger generation was not seen during his lifetime, but now being on display at the university will give his work a chance to be admired, not only by people on campus, but also by the locals of Reno. Reno was Walton’s final home, so it was only suitable for his work to be remembered here.
Walton, also known as Nevada’s “Grand Old Man” of abstract art, was born in San Francisco, Calif. in 1914 and later died in Reno in 2005. A decade before his death, the Nevada Museum of Art allowed him three exhibitions in 1993 and 1994 for his ranges of abstract painting mediums.
This artist tried everything. He tried photography and caricature drawings before he got into abstract art with watercolor painting, oil and enamel painting on different surfaces and even acrylic painting.
“It’s hard for me to say what the students will take out of this because there’s so many styles, you know, and when I look at student art here, it is also in you know, very many styles,” Shafton said. “But one thing I definitely do hope is that the outtake from it is the technical mastery there because he really was a master of techniques.”
Walton struggled because the market wanted people to produce in one certain style of art, but he didn’t want to conform to just one. He wanted to create his own individualism and not be constrained by the art which took hold of him in that moment.
The Walton exhibit has 22 pieces hanging on the walls, each divided into some of their own individual sections and some grouped together.
One of Shafton’s favorites is the “Image of Ithaca/Triptych II”, which is an oil and enamel painting on a masonite surface from 1965. The painting has reddish shutters on the outside thirds of the piece and in the center is a mix of colors and designs with a black frame of oil covered in splotches of a cream white mixed in with a pinkish color in the center.
“You know, it’s hard for me to tell you why it appeals to me most…[just] something about it,” Shafton said.
Shafton also really enjoyed one of his last paintings called “2000 A.D.” from 1992, which is a nude portrayal that’s also a work with oil and enamel on a masonite surface.
“I suspect this [piece] had to do with hopes for some sort of regeneration in the world,” Shafton said, when showing the piece.
Not only did Walton have an assortment of paintings which may have never been recognized, or had hardly received any attention, but he also had an assortment of unpublished written works.
What did his written work focus on?
“Himself,” Shafton said with a chuckle. “[He wrote] some straight autobiography and a lot in the novel format, which would basically [be] autobiographical fiction.”
However, Walton also focused on other things. Like a photo book he compiled on Virginia City, which was never published, and individual pieces on theories of perspective. Walton even wrote a bit on an underwater theory based on his piece “Off Riding Rock I” from 1977.
Regardless of unfinished or unrecognized work, Walton still managed to play a huge role in the abstract art community in Nevada’s cultural history and Shafton is here to help reintroduce him to the Reno community where he was previously recognized.
For all art students of the university’s community, Shafton said Walton’s advice would be nothing short of political.
“He’d say, for God’s sake, save this country from fascism,” Shafton emphasized with a smile. “What I’d say from Walton … Don’t limit yourself in your creative ambitions.”
The retrospective exhibit will remain available for the public until April 24 at the Lilley’s Front Door Gallery.
Jaedyn Young can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jaedyn_young3.