Art Crush Teaser! Lydia Walls Reveals Her Sources

Lydia Walls, in her own portraiture style. Photograph by Karley Sullivan, banner by Lydia Walls.

Karley Sullivan: Hi Lydia. Tell me about your auction item for BURNAWAY’s Art Crush!

Lydia Walls: I will commission a custom pet portrait. The winner can email me a photo of their pet and I will paint it on a 5 x 5 inch panel. They can request colors for the background as well as for the banner. Susannah [Darrow] saw my 365 Portraits of Southerners at Barbara Archer Gallery’s Talent Loves Company exhibition, and I recently had the opportunity to do illustrations for BURNAWAY’s first book.

KS: You seem to have a strong interest in portraiture—what initiated your 365 Portraits project?

LW:  Yes, I definitely have a strong interest in portraiture! It is a new interest….just a couple of years old, and it did begin with the 365 portraits. That project was initiated by a couple of experiences.  First, I had visited Howard Finster’s Paradise Gardens in Summerville, GA. I was familiar with his work already and have seen it several times at the High Museum. I wasn’t all that impressed with his work until visiting the gardens. It was there that I fully realized his fanaticism and was drawn to his crude portraits. I liked them so much that I bought a photocopy of a portrait he did of JFK.

The second experience was meeting Theron Humphrey. He is a photographer and was about to embark on a year-long journey across the country, photographing everyday people in all 50 states. Having a lull in my art practice, these two men inspired me. I had never been confident in painting people and certainly had never painted 365 portraits. I thought if they could do it, then why couldn’t I. So, one day at a time, I painted friends, family, artists, curators, art critics, musicians, famous peoples, and pets. Some are living, some are dead. Some I know and others I don’t; they are people (and animals) I think about.

KS: Besides Finster and Humphrey, are there any other influences for your portraiture work?

LW: I am drawn to old Flemish paintings. I was able to visit some galleries and museums in New York, Brussels, Amsterdam, and Paris this past year. I found myself spending a bit more time with portraits. Mostly to figure out how they painted noses. I daydream about painting noses.  Oh, and I love portraits of Queen Elizabeth. I have one hanging in my bedroom.

KS: Which of the 365 Portraits is your favorite?

LW: My favorite is my Grandpa. He passed away a couple of years ago so I used an old photo from when I was about 10. He’s wearing a Dairy Queen hat. We shared a love of ice cream.

Lydia Walls, Grandpa, 2012, 5×5 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

KS:  Yes, I love that one too. So, what does portraiture mean to you, and have your perceptions of the genre changed since working with portraiture yourself?

LW: I actually wasn’t all that interested in it before. My other work is much more psychedelic and surreal, but there is something about portraiture that people can relate to. Even if it doesn’t look exactly like the person, something about their personality comes out. It’s documentation of their existence, and in some way immortalizes them. I think even more so for the friends and family I painted. They seem like they are a part of a royal family. Historically, portraits were primarily made for the rich and powerful. So in painting my contemporaries, friends, and family, it gives them a sense of importance. They are the lords and ladies of my world even though most of them aren’t rich or powerful.

KS: How do pets and animals fit into your idea of portraiture?

LW:  In my experience, pets are absolutely part of the family. I grew up with cats. My first cat was Ms. Kitty. I was an only child until I was ten, so we spent a good bit of time together. Once my brother was born, we got more cats. I had birds and hamsters too, but I didn’t have my first dog until adulthood. I now have two. Fritz is a miniature Daschund and Annie is a Daschund Beagle mix. They have so much personality, and I talk to them a lot. I also talk for them sometimes!  Pets serve as companions, siblings, and conversationalists, among many other things. They provide joy and laughter, as well as frustration and heartache. They definitely teach me about myself and continue to provide unconditional love. 

Maddie Humphrey, an example pet portrait by Lydia Walls, courtesy and copyright the artist.

KS: So, if you could have anyone do your portrait, who would it be, and why?

LW: Oh that’s a good question! I’d love for Chris Scarborough to do a portrait of me. His drawings are great. It’d also be cool to see me in one of his manipulated photographs, looking like an anime character.

Art Crush is tomorrow! For more information, click here.


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