Images from the Neocerebellum by George A. Walker
The Mad Hatter of the contemporary Canadian graphic arts, wood engraver George A. Walker considers the passage of time as it unfolds from the pages of his personal dream diary.
The Mad Hatter of contemporary Canadian graphic arts, wood engraver George A. Walker considers the passage of time as it unfolds from the binding of his personal dream diary.
Walker was introduced to the concept of a visual dream diary in John MacGregor’s ‘Inscape Psychology’ courses at the Ontario College of Art in the 1980s. An essential part of the course requirement insisted each student keep a daily dream diary. The methodology was simple enough: set an alarm clock with an urgent mechanism in the evening primed to startle the dreaming student to sudden wakefulness in the morning, then set to paper immediately whatever fragments could be salvaged from a fitful night before the fanciful thoughts dissipated in the bright glare of dawn. Walker became obsessed with the practice and continues to record his dreams daily, twenty-five years further on. Often in the nineteenth-century medium of wood engraving, pushing sharpened burins into the planed surface of endgrain Canadian maple.
2008—Independent Publisher (IPPY) awards,
For over twenty years George A. Walker has compulsively maintained a visual dream diary of images remembered from his resonant sleep. Inspired by Carl Jung’s theories of dreaming and the dream’s relation to the unconscious Walker began to explore the dioramas encountered in his enchantment, distilling them into single black and white images in an effort to capture unconscious moments in time. Many of these same images have subsequently been transferred onto endgrain wood blocks and hand printed in limited letterpress editions. As Walker claims, ‘dreams are the bones of the psyche, which is where all our understanding of self begins and ends.’
Why is it that the black and white image is so compelling? The human eye consists of rods and cones that process the reflected light of our world. These signals are then translated into colour and form for processing by the brain. The rods, however, are considered one of the most primitive organs in the eye and are sensitive only to black and white. These rods are the first component of the eye to be activated at birth and this explains why infants respond readily to high contrast black and white images. It could be said, then, that human beings are ‘hard-wired’ to read black and white artwork. It is this instinctive physical attraction that drives Walker’s exploration of the high contrasts intrinsic to wood engraving prints.
The neocerebellum is the part of the cerebellum that controls visual-spacial, procedural learning and the preparation of complex movements such as would be required in the engraving of lines on a wood block. Many psychologists believe the cerebellum is where our dreams originate. Since the cerebellum is in control of the emotions and self-awareness it is one key to understanding how the brain organizes its unconscious self.
In the United States, Walker is known for his many collaborations with the bestselling novelist Neil Gaiman, author of Anansi Boys, American Gods and Neverwhere and the creator/writer of the monthly cult DC Comics horror-weird series, Sandman. Walker has published two Biting Dog Press editions of Gaiman’s writing -- Murder Mysteries and Snow Glass Apples.
In Canada, Walker is perhaps best-known for the ninety-six wood engravings he created to illustrate the Cheshire Cat Press edition of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1988) which was printed by hand in 177 copies by Walker’s long-time mentor Bill Poole at the Poole Hall Press. Wonderland was followed, in 1998, by yet another Cheshire Cat edition of Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There which may have given rise to Walker’s current reputation as the Mad Hatter of the Canadian graphic arts, an artist of ‘sustained and wacky integrity half way between Jose Posada and Krazy Kat’.
‘George Walker is one of the most unusual wood engravers in the country, and works in a distinctly contemporary idiom. Using a dentist’s drill, he routs out deep grooves which create bold graphic white lines, providing a brilliant black-white contrast.’
—Patricia Ainslie, Glenbow Museum
‘Walker’s engravings are distanced from the twentieth-century English tradition exemplified by Gill and Gillings: for example, he often uses a dentist’s drill to rout out deep grooves. This is not an inconsequential labour-saving technique: it gives the images more of a folk-art feel and dramatizes his symbolic and often surreal compositions.’
—Paul Razzell, Parenthesis
‘Warning: Reading this book will affect your sleep.’
—Michael Lieberman, Book Patrol
‘Paired with brief explicatory entries describing the pictures, the pages of the book chart a passage into an irrational world in which a central character finds himself in a Kafkaesque world, wandering alienated in a strange space. Others show odd juxtapositions of recognizable things -- a tree coming out of a mouth, a person in a bed with oversized hands, pierced faces, and a puzzling device of a circus performer flanked by two barking wolves balancing on balls, arranged as if a heraldic device.’
—Tom Smart, Devil’s Artisan
‘I believe dreams are the bones of the psyche, which is where all our understanding of self begins and ends. The dream diary is the most abstract and visually absurd sequential inner narrative. Although the events and images may seem not to have a relationship to one another, it is the very circumstance that the Dreamer is the Story that brings it all together as a single work.’
—George A. Walker
George A. Walker (Canadian, b. 1960) is an award-winning wood engraver, book artist, teacher, author, and illustrator who has been creating artwork and books and publishing at his private press since 1984. Walker’s popular courses in book arts and printmaking at OCAD University in Toronto, where he is Associate Professor, have been running continuously since 1985. For over twenty years Walker has exhibited his wood engravings and limited edition books internationally, often in conjunction with The Loving Society of Letterpress (and The Binders of Infinite Love) and the Canadian Bookbinders and Book Artists Guild (CBBAG). Among many book projects Walker has illustrated two hand-printed books written by internationally-acclaimed author Neil Gaiman. Walker is also the illustrator of the first Canadian editions of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking-Glass books (Cheshire Cat Press). George A. Walker was elected to the Royal Canadian Academy of Art for his contribution to the cultural area of Book Arts.
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