William Walker book photographs (2014)
Bill Walker (1927-2011) is the pioneering and influential muralist who’s the initiator of the contemporary community-based mural movement, owing to his organization of the Wall of Respect on the South Side of Chicago in 1967, which was collectively created by him and a group of other African-American artists. Spurred by the civil-rights struggles, the Black Power/Black Arts movements, and the social upheavals of the 1960s, the street mural (depicting 50 black heroes) launched an art revolution—a “People’s Art” movement that was characterized by artists working with communities to plan and create public art relevant to people’s everyday lives, grounded in the ideals of self-determination, cultural democracy, and social change.
Walker produced or co-produced dozens of socially conscious exterior and interior murals in Chicago’s (and Detroit’s) neighborhoods related to the struggles and aspirations of the urban black experience, including issues of racism, injustice, and inequality along with messages of hope, pride, and unity. Walker’s murals—compassionate and confrontational, affirmative and admonishing—are viewed as among the movement’s most significant achievements, influencing later generations of community artists as well as city residents and visitors. The book highlights Walker’s ongoing relevance and his (and other early black muralists’) contributions to community, collaborative, socially engaged, and African-American art. It is a text and visual narrative of his major work.
Of Walker’s 30-odd murals, only four outdoor artworks (all from the 1970s) are extant; of those, three have been restored. Although his murals form an invaluable American and Chicago cultural legacy that has nearly vanished from city neighborhoods and memory, nearly all of Walker’s public murals have been documented, mostly by the Chicago Public Art Group, the nonprofit that Walker co-founded (as the Chicago Mural Group) in 1971, the nation’s oldest mural organization.
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