“I see myself as a figurative painter in the European tradition, attempting to maintain my craft at the highest level, using paint to explore issues of truth, meaning and value. All my paintings are attempted answers to the three questions in the title of Gauguin’s famous painting: ‘Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?’”
Conor Walton was born in Dublin in 1970. He studied painting at National College of Art, Dublin and graduated with a Joint Honours Degree in the History of Art and Fine Art Painting in 1993, winning the prestigious Taylor Prize that same year. After furthering his artistic studies with an MA in Art History and Theory in the UK, Walton moved to Florence, Italy, to master the traditional skills of fine art drawing and colour at the Cecil Studios. The teaching method used at the studios derives from the Italian Renaissance where before any individual experimentation is permitted, all students must first learn the fundamental skills of draftsmanship and the sight-size method of figure drawing and painting from the model. Walton returned to Ireland in 1996 where he has remained, painting full-time, ever since.
Walton favours two of the most traditional and perhaps challenging genres: portraiture and still life. His extraordinary draftsmanship and mastery of light and shadow, as well as his understanding for colour and composition, makes Walton one of Ireland’s premier young artists. It is clear fromobservation just how greatly his academic studies have influenced Walton’s approach to painting. However, although seemingly born out of tradition, Walton’s works are inherently modern. He comments that, “Everything I do in still life is done tactically, strategically, self-consciously. I end up trying to treat the painting as a miniature drama, a microcosm. I use objects that have meaning for me and try to get the whole painting to make a statement, to express an attitude…It’s a battleground for me, a way of waging a small-scale war against modernity”.
When viewing one of his paintings, we see before us a canvas that contains all the trappings of a traditional still life. There are pieces of fruit, glasses of wine or loaves of bread which are arranged together next to a sweeping curtain that is reminiscent of an artwork produced by Vermeer or any of his counterparts. Yet nestled among these items Walton places elements of the super modern such as a moon lander, an astronaut or a jumbo jet in flight in the background. In some instances the fruit in the composition has been piled into a plastic carrier bag, similar to those found in any supermarket, then arranged next to a marble bust as if the present day and the past are colliding before our eyes. By mixing together the incredibly modern and the obviously traditional so successfully, Walton manages to produce paintings that are both relevant and timeless, deserving of his high recognition.
Since winning Third Prize for Painting at the Florence Biennale in 1999, Walton has established an international career that sees him exhibiting extensively worldwide, with recent solo shows in Britain, Denmark, Norway and America. His paintings are represented in numerous public and private collections including the National Self-Portrait Collection, University College Dublin and the Irish Armed Forces, among many others.