D?eece Walker hasn't escaped racism in his young life. The 23-year-old black artist still vibrates a bit as he recalls the day an acquaintance called him a racial slur.
'At first, I got frustrated, ' he said, 'and then I got hotter and hotter. '
He walked away and channeled that emotion into researching black history. What he learned prompted him to create powerful images about race, politics and religion, mostly on recycled cardboard. His second solo show, 'Black Testament, ' opens Friday at the Business of Art Center.
'Growing up, racism resulted in confusion for me, ' he said. 'Phrases with the 'N' word in it, even if they were jokes, turned into issues. Those phrases come from the culture, from parents, grandparents, TV. They sparked me to research history to understand that lack of understanding in others. '
He uses cardboard as his canvas to help convey ideas and subject matter he believes have been overlooked or disregarded.
'My work attempts to communicate the misunderstandings and lack of information regarding the black American experience, ' Walker said.
One of the exhibit pieces is a large mixed-media piece called 'Saint Sebastian the Slave. ' It depicts a black man in shackles, with several holes pierced through his torso and the cardboard itself. Yellow paint drizzles from the gaping wounds. He has painted the figure over printouts of ads from the 1800s. The word 'martyrs ' is scrawled in red paint above the man's head.
'I identify as an African-American, and those two words have a lot of information tied to them, ' Walker said.
'Depending on who hears them, they have their own ideas about that. There are preconceptions based on my appearance, and I'm exploring the origins of those preconceptions. '
Walker will graduate this semester from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs with a bachelor's degree in visual and performing arts. It's a far cry from the business degree he pursued for the first three years of college. He was steadily making his way up the ladder at Ent Federal Credit Union, until he had a serious talk with himself.
'Do I want to be miserable in a job that makes money or be happy in an uncertain job that guarantees a lifetime of learning? ' he said.
Corey Drieth, an assistant professor of drawing and painting at UCCS, met Walker during the 2007 school year. Technically, he was strong, he said, but the subject matter was standard fare. His opinion has changed over the years.
'He responded to creative challenges in interesting ways, ' Drieth said. 'Even though the subject matter was not that interesting, you knew he was an interesting person. That's the criteria for being an artist in contemporary culture. You might not have skill or technique, but you are cultivating a curiosity and way of being in the world. '
Walker recently won the RAW: Natural Born Artists award. The arts organization in L.A. awards artists within the first 10 years of their career with help needed to inspire and cultivate their artistic path. His first solo show, 'Torn Existence, ' debuted last year at the UCCS Heller Center for Arts and Humanities, and his piece 'March With King, ' a charcoal-drawn version of Martin Luther King Jr., is now in the permanent collection of UCCS.
'It was clear from the first day, ' Drieth said. 'Some people make a decision to become an artist. Other people are born that way - they just need to make things. D?eece is in the latter category. '
Jennifer Mulson may be reached at 636-0270.