He may have not been a mainstream household name, but within the gay community any guy with eyes most likely knows the name or has seen the art of Steve Walker.
Before I began putting my own work on display (around 1999-2000) I really had little knowledge or even much awareness about, the 'gay art' genre. I of course had seen gay themed paintings and illustrations but didn't know the names of the artists or anything about them.
That quickly changed, and Steve Walker was perhaps the first artist whose name and work I began to easily recognize. I am sure that was partly due to the immense popularity of his work. But I was also drawn to him because, while his work was gay themed it was not first and foremost about sex (not that there is anything wrong with that). His work spoke about the emotions, relationships, and social aspects of being homosexual, and that's something I, along with countless fans of his work, identified with.
From the beginning of my career I've gotten comments comparing my work to his, which I've always taken as an honor. While I see all the differences in our art, just the fact that people saw qualities in my work that caused them to compare it to the most well known contemporary artist of the genre was and is humbling.
Years later when my work was picked up and represented by a gallery (Lyman-Eyer of Provincetown) that also carried Steve Walker's, it was definitely a benchmark moment for me.
When I got the news a month ago that Steve Walker had died at a mere 50 years old, I was saddened, stunned and in disbelief. I guess in the back of my mind, since we brushed along the same circles, that one day I'd get to meet him in person, thank him for inspiring me as an artist and in my life, talk technique with him, and commiserate about the social anxiety of gallery openings. From all your fans, thank you for the gifts you have given us, you will be greatly missed
The popularity and significance of Steve Walkers work and can be best illustrated in the context of time. While the gay rights movement began in earnest in the 1960's and 70's it wasn't until the AIDS crisis in the 1980's forced the closet door open and society could no longer ignore their gay brothers and sisters or dismiss them as the flamboyant fringe that marched in big city parades. By the 1990's there was no denying us. More and more they became aware that we were their neighbors in suburbia, their mailman and mechanic, their aunts and uncles. Steve, through his own personal perspective, held up his art like a mirror to this quickly growing out and proud segment of society. It wasn't just that his work resonated within the gay community, it was that he also showed those who regarded being gay as 'just about sex', that we care, love, cry, and dream just like everyone else. Over the years he constantly managed to capture our lives on his canvas.