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Frank Walter: Wanderlust and a Tour of Scotland

Extracted from ‘The Last Universal Man’, by Barbara Paca. Quoted text by Frank Walter transcribed by Barbara Paca.

Walter spent the end of 1959 traveling. He visited Cologne, Germany, on Christmas day and checked into what he considered to be a luxury hotel. He then explored Gelsenkirchen and Düsseldorf.

Hunger and exhaustion, however, led him to suffer hallucinations. Within five days, he returned to England… On New Year’s Day of 1960, Walter caught a train for Stoke-on-Trent as he felt more at home in the North of England. When he was looking for a room to rent in the city, he met someone called Campbell, who invited him to Hogmanay celebrations. Walter’s new acquaintance quickly turned on him. He first swindled Walter out of his money and then beat him up and left him lying on the ground, bleeding. Following the attack, the police checked Walter into the “nerve” hospital for a few days of treatment.

When Walter was released from the sanitarium, he remained in Stoke-on-Trent where he returned to work as a miner and also took on a succession of part-time jobs. He moved into a room with an impoverished family of Polish descent. It was here that he found moments of solace, working as a painter in his “small, but art filled room.

Frank Walter’s typewriter on display in Frank Walter: Artist, Gardener, Radical

He also bought an Olympia typewriter on which he wrote poetry and plays. However, the stress of his long working hours and constant rejection by English people fueled Walter’s vivid waking dreams. This was compounded by his strong belief that he was the only appropriate suitor for Princess Margaret, which was difficult to bear amid the publicity surrounding her Westminster Abbey marriage to Antony Snowden. As Walter continued with his real and imagined genealogies, he encountered visions of Stuart ancestors flying about his bedsit.

One morning in May 1960, Walter’s dreams spurred him into action. He was sleeping in his tiny bed in the corner of his room when he was startled awake by visions of Charles II. He rushed almost immediately to the Stoke-on-Trent railway station and purchased a ticket bound for Scotland in search of what he believed to be the location of his family’s principal seat and European origins.

It proved to be a significant visit. During his time in Scotland, Walter felt a visceral connection to his family legacy, to the soil, and to his life’s purpose.

I began to see balls of light project themselves from my eyes, in pulses, as beautiful as the Rainbow.

Something then like the Diode Electric Effect on a Gas filled Chamber when Ions begin to leave the gas and drift. Perhaps I was a diode valve, or Ancestors are to our bodies as ions are to Diodes.

My ancestors and Ancestresses, had begun to leave my body. They floated about the room, spreading perfumed scents into the small but Art Filled Room at 1 Grant Street. Some made patterns in the atmosphere like diffraction rings, and through such rings faces appeared in the most beautiful florescent figures. Some turned to Roses and Rose petals filled the room. Then came Charles II, arrogant, tall, and almost conceited. He held a white Handkerchief by the thumb and index finger, which he draped alongside his tall white linen coat, as he turned disdainfully aside. He was the last to lead the train out of my eyes and brains, no longer fixed on the balls of my eyes like the picture on a television screen played for my inner man to see.

Frank Walter’s art and writings exploring his ancestry, on display in Frank Walter: Artist, Gardener, Radical

He turned aside as if he was beginning the Quadrille. He dusted a pinch of Snuff on the back of his hand and sniffed, then he turned to me. ‘You are us! Lazy you are! Now out of bed see to our graves to Scotland, and immediately lad! England sleeps, and sleep is death and you hold her life. Go see what death is made of! Death is made of graves. Yet you still live. Matters not what the world may think, tis you who live. We live!’ He floated to and fro like a scopic, expanding and contracting a diffraction ring. I was floated out of bed, in the midst of this drama, much as would be said, of one who is deemed spirited away.

I went to the Stoke Railway Station, and bought a ticket to Scotland Just as I was directed, as the apparition returned to my body and joined my inner man. Thus began my Pilgrimage to Edinburgh, Dalkeith, Kelso, Jedburgh, Melrose, and a long walk through the Countryside of Scotland to record my name at Jedburgh Castle, beneath the portrait of Henry Stuart Darnley.

There now in the register is written the name Francis Archibald Wentworth Walter, and I thereafter began to know of a truth how I came to be called by all my names. They fit like the parts of a Jigsaw Puzzle…

Frank Walter’s autobiography on display in Frank Walter: Artist, Gardener, Radical

Royalty is not one who forever sits a throne and wears a crown, or expects to some day sooner or later. Surely not alone that. Royalty is one who knows that one belongs to the pedigree that makes kinds, or made kings or is to make kings. At least with mankind, there is the tomb and the tombstone, and this alone gives weight. The ancient Egyptians did not make their final homes so massive, and rich, for the sake of it. The Pyramids and Sphinxes were not there as toys.

At Jedburgh, I saw the portrait of myself Henry Stuart Darnley, fashioning a body designed by providence for the Sixteenth Century, to compare my Twentieth Century Model. Now discerning that I am not far removed in stature and Physiognomy, and tonsorial claims, of head and face, from that Great Ancestor who made us with the Queen of Scots Walter and Stewart of Scotland wed to Stuart.

At Jedburgh, I walked in pensive mood, I walked until I arrived at the birthplace of Sir Walter Scott, and I stood by the door and wandered, whether one day those who shall read my accounts of love and marriage, war and peace, shall push them aside saying, Just another fanciful dream of another dreaming Walter Scott.?

Standing before the door of the Birthplace of Sir Walter Scott, I had asked myself, Should I take the serious approach to expressing the facts about my family? Or should I copy William Shakespeare, or Sir Walter Scott so to make my knowledge and new feeling, the basis for becoming a Dramatist?’ The future was to tell. It was enough to know the roots of many causes of may mysteries in our family. It was enough for me to have stood on the ground where it all began, and to feel a part of the soil. I would have until then, remained a man of sentiment, perhaps for the rest of my life.

Frank Walter: Artist, Gardener, Radical

Here before the door of the birthplace of Sir Walter Scott, I decided to build around my own life, the story of all of my people, giving as clear an account of all the elements of my ancestry, as I could of myself following my calendared course in life. They are my forefathers to be discussed. I certainly would have to be more serious about my work than Sir Walter Scott or William Shakespeare.

Anybody can write a play, but only I may live this life. It is my life to live mine to tell about, and no life is without its nodes and internodes of lives, our forefathers make us like a stem of Sugar Cane. With nodes and internodes. I am like the Root of the Stalk, I am well planted on the soil, I carry the younger nodes and internodes upon my root, yet they are like the Crowns of my forefathers upon my head as if they are to be reborn and nourished by me planted firmly in the soil.

Nor I could not make this serious scholarly business the mere matter for the Actor’s Stage. It is a real Story of an human life, and those elements which are inseparable, I only grieve for those who do not really know that mankind has no greater purpose in life than to remember our source of origin, going back to Almighty God, accepting all of our temporal ancestors, all of them, the good and the bad. This is how we become a repairing specie, because it began with our acceptance of the task to reset the honours of our forefathers, and all that go with preserving the blood, so housing ourselves as we repaired the crumbled castles. We do not all live on sands, nor stay long enough to build castles thereupon. We leave our footprints however on the sands of time as we journey onwards to more fertile grounds to plant and to reap, to build, and I here in Scotland have only the right to look back upon those faire by our forefathers.

Walter’s trip to Scotland lasted less than forty-eight hours. Yet, despite its brevity, it was his most singular European experience, and he continuously recycled each moment in painting and writing.

He was drawn particularly to the Scottish landscape, which became one of his favorite subjects. His miniature oil painting of the Grampian Mountains captures the moment when the heather is in bloom and the earth is beginning to warm up for the brief summer. The painting somehow even seems to suggest the smell of the forest before it rains.

Frank Walter’s painting of a Scottish landscape, courtesy Frank Walter Family

Walter’s landscape paintings – spectacularly painted from memory – come from a passionate private truth and attachment to place. Scottish Husbandry, Scottish Silvaculture, and Abstract Forest all share an emotive, abstract quality. In each, an insistent, repetitive use of blocks of green builds a canopy, while tall black trunks form rhythmic staccato vertical elements. The last of these shares a similar simplicity, flatness, and perspective to the Cornish landscapes of Alfred Wallis…

Walter created a series of nonobjective paintings around the same time that he was working for the Wedgwood and Minton tile factories in Stoke-on-Trent as a fuel hauler, kiln loader, enameller, and glaze mixer. Here his fascination for the science of art grew, and he took night classes at Stoke Technical College, studying chemistry, metallurgy, and physics. Walter developed a series of paintings to elucidate his complex colour theory that was based on the psychological impact of various hues along with his adaptation of scientific theories of electromagnetic radiation. He connected his theory to a wide, mystical universe of energy that he sensed deeply.

I am a student of Physics and Energy is my business. To me according to Christ, Spirits have energies, or may be given energies. When one casts out something it goes on its own volition, or is given volition, anyhow energy is associated with its motion.

Walter’s colour theory developed from his ruminations on art, science, and philosophy. Yet his ideas were most significantly influenced by his sensitivity to phenomena or visions and his firsthand experiences of hard labour in modern factories. Much as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) in his book Theory of Colours (1810), Walter was less concerned with pinning down a rigid definition of colour perception than focusing on the importance of the phenomenological encounter in shaping it. In the introduction to his book, Goethe touches on this shared idea and the psychological curiosity required for seeing.

The desire of knowledge is first stimulated in us when remarkable phenomena attract our attention. In order that this attention be continued, it is necessary that we should feel some interest in exercising it, and thus by degrees we become better acquainted with the object of our curiosity?

A series of nonobjective paintings dating to around 1960 reference Walter’s explorations in colour theory and stand apart in his art practice.

Frank Walter, Architecture (undated). Courtesy Frank Walter Family (c) Kenneth Milton and David Zwirner

By the end of April 1961, Walter decided to return to Antigua. Even though the intended ten-year period for his Grand Tour of industry had not passed, he felt it was time to leave. He was frustrated by the lack of opportunity in England, and he wanted to use all he had learned to save the sugar industry and help his fellow Antiguans. Walter went through France and Italy on his way home.

En route he took an unexpected jaunt through the Swiss Alps, making notes about the landscapes he encountered during his journey home. Filed together with his nearly eight years spent in Germany and the UK, these were memories he would sift through time and again in writing and in the visual arts during the last forty years of his life.

Frank Walter: Artist, Gardener, Radical is open until 25 February

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