When artist J. Michael Walker and I first met it was at my house, about three years ago. I had seen his exhibition All the Saints of the City of the Angels, and through the modern miracle of Facebook, we had mutual friends, would hit “like” on each others posts, and then started commenting back and forth. So when I threw a party for 100+ people, he seemed like an interesting addition to the mix. Since then, we’ve see each other at lots of events and chat about art, our love of LA, and our interest in religion, most recently during the LA Art Show when I ran into him and his intern Venado Encantilado at the Getty Center Reception, and later at the show itself, where he was part of Letters from Los Angeles: Text in Southern California Art.
J. Michael maps Los Angeles through its relationship with religion, art, and words: On Thursday night, February 27 at 7pm, he’ll be speaking at Los Feliz Public Library, discussing his literary map of Los Angeles, “City in Mind: A Lyrical Map of the Concept of Los Angeles.”
Walker is also working on another project, one connected with his reverence for women and their expression as a force of the Divine. He has been photographing women, nude, in a style that celebrates their femininity. With models ranging in ages from 21 to 80 (so far), all shapes, sizes, and races, this project is designed to bring out and celebrate the inner woman, for women. He began he project when I woman he met at one of his shows asked him to draw her–she had been in a tornado as a child and went through a long series of surgeries to correct the injuries she’d sustained.The drawing began with photos and since then the project expanded. One model had displayed her first tattoo–which she’d gotten at age 75. This is an ongoing project for Walker, who plans to turn the images into a book and eventually a gallery show.
So yeah, I went for it.
J. Michael’s studio is down the driveway from the house he shares with his family, surrounded by plants, and filled with lots of books, relics, religious statuary, knickknacks, and his own art, including large pieces that were developed during his residency in Bahia, Brazil. Michael and I share interest in African Diasporic Religions, and he showed me his many statues of Exu (Eleggua), Oshun and other santos before explaining what we’d be doing, which was basically me dropping trou and him shooting pictures, only he was way more delicate and graceful in his wording.
The light had shifted since he’d arranged the draped chair and couch, going from cloudy to sunny outside the shaded windows–J. Michael uses only existing lighting–but he adjusted accordingly.
I would sit or lay down and he shoot a few frames, then he’d ask me to change position, or to move chunk of hair out of my face, or whatever. We’d pause and he’d show me the shots we’d gotten, which helped me figure out the best way for me to tilt my head or move an arm for angles I’d prefer. Plus we chatted between each series of “poses,” though really it was more just me sitting or laying down, and him unobtrusively snapping the shutter, all very comfortable and relaxing. And the results: These aren’t studio shots, designed and Photoshopped to make me look like a Victoria’s Secret model or Playboy centerfold; they are me, unadorned, unaltered, just being me. And I was really happy with them, very much so. Which means I must be pretty happy with myself.