Frank Walter, Ingleby Gallery (3 stars)

Frank Walter, Ingleby Gallery

credit: John McKenzie

Solo exhibition by one of the Caribbean’s most intriguing artists leaves you wanting more

Although the Ingleby Gallery has shown the work of the late Antiguan artist Frank Walter in a group setting before, this is the first time they’ve presented a whole-gallery headline retrospective. It leaves the viewer wanting more – not necessarily of the art, for there’s a full and varied selection of pieces to be seen here – but of the man himself.

Born in 1926 and alive until 2009, Walter was a brilliant eccentric; the first black man to manage a sugar plantation in Antigua, who moved away to Europe in pursuit of learning and spent his last two and a half decades in a secluded shack churning out paintings and 25,000 pages of semi-autobiographical text.

In this context one might hope for a bit more in-detail text, for photos, for an insight into the enigma of Walter. We do get a recreation of part of his shack; monochrome photos and bright portrait images adorning the place, a beat-up old typewriter on a wooden desk and a checkerboard lying out on an empty single bed. The squares and circles on the board echo paintings elsewhere including ‘Complex of Life’ and ‘Wavelength (Light and Heat)’, the random order of life nailed down as abstract painted patterns.

It’s in this abstraction and his command of colour that Walter’s work really comes to life; in the many tiny landscapes which fill the walls of the downstairs gallery, strips and peaks of red and black and yellow and pale green suggesting a thumbnail impression of the horizon, and in the fever-dreamt octet of devil masks arranged in sequence. By comparison his figures are cartoonish, including a cheerful vampire, a dazed ballerina in a trance and Hitler rather obtusely playing cricket. In many cases rendered on card, their game naivety is compelling.

Ingleby Gallery, Edinburgh, until Sat 23 May

Frank Walter

Work by Antiguan artist (1926–2009), one of the most intriguing Caribbean artists of the past 50 years.

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