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21 questions with artist Larry Walker

Retired GSU professor (and artist Kara Walker's daddy) Larry Walker's palimpsests of paint, rust, movie posters and newspaper clippings spackling urban walls testify to the flux of modern life. In the artist's profound riffs on the physical world's ephemerality, the movies, people and politicians who define now are just tomorrow's peeling, decaying remnants. Walker's poignant read on our ever-changing visual culture addresses issues from the black and white schism in contemporary art to the artist's grappling with his own mortality.

Age 68. Married to Gwen for 47 years, three grown children.

Neighborhood Stone Mountain.

Education BS and MFA, Wayne State University.

Did you encourage your children to go into the arts?

I encouraged them to be involved in art. Whether or not they went into it was their choice.

Is the urban milieu you depict in your work threatening or vibrant to you?

It's not threatening at all. Vibrant in the sense that there's so much variety in an urban environment, you can't help but be captivated by the visuals. I grew up in New York.

Would you go back? The first seven or eight years after I left I thought that I probably would go back to live, but that dissipated. I don't think I could live there again.

If you could live anywhere? If I won the lotto, somewhere close to San Francisco.

Describe your work to someone who has never seen it before.

For the most part, I think anyone looking at artwork, especially for the first time, should trust their instincts and trust their feelings.

When did you discover you were an artist? [Laughs] I'm still discovering that. My earliest recollections of wanting to go in that direction probably came around age 7. At the point I entered [New York's] High School of Music and Art, my life changed. It was at that point being an artist made sense to me.

Describe your work in one word. Contemplative.

Worst part of teaching? The influx of paper-based materials that the upper administration wants and needs. Documentation of everything has gotten worse in recent years. The business of teaching gets less rewarding.

Is retirement overrated? I don't think so.

What do you have time for now? I spend more time in the studio on a concentrated basis.

What's on your TV? "West Wing." "NYPD Blue." Generally some action-based things as opposed to comedy.

One thing you couldn't live without? Connection to people.

American you most admire? John F. Kennedy.

Artist(s)? Charles White, Wayne Thiebaud, Raymond Saunders, Nathan Oliveira.

Guilty pleasure? More Menthol cigarettes.

For your last meal on earth? Baked salmon, vegetable stir-fry, white rice, a slice of yellow or vanilla cake with chocolate icing and vanilla ice cream.

Last great book you read? The Measure of a Man by Sidney Poitier.

Listening to now? Dire Straits. Brothers in Arms. It's so poignant.

Ever give Kara art world advice?

Not really. If she asks me about something I'll give her as honest an answer as I can. She's pretty self-sufficient.

Larry Walker's Diptychs: Pathways in the Garden runs through Oct. 7 at Bank of America Plaza, West Lobby, 600 Peachtree St. 9 a.m.-6 p.m. 404-816-9777.

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