Well Within the Realm... A Casual Conversation with Hamza Walker
The back-story for this interview is that I met Hamza in Cincinnati as a graduate student. He was a guest lecturer in our visiting artists program and sat in on critiques for a couple of days. I bumped into him again at the Affiar, I'm transcribing this conversation as faithfully as I can remember it...
Isaac: Hi Hamza, do you remember me from Cincinnati? I was on the visiting artists committee and we went out to dinner after your lecture. My name is Isaac.
Hamza: Oh yeah! What was that place called?
Hamza: That's right.
Isaac: Some of your critiques became the stuff of legend in Cincinnati.
Hamza: Oh really?
Isaac: Yeah, there was a color field painter you were critiquing and you told him to look at Frank Frazetta. He was totally mystified. He thought you were referring to a less well known color field painter he'd never heard of.
Hamza: Man, when you mention Frazetta, you're talking universal appeal.
Isaac: I know. It's the lowest common denominator.
Hamza: Really! Conan the Barbarian! Come on!
Isaac: Yeah, after you left it took him all year to figure it out. He was an undergraduate and too young for Conan at its apex.
Hamza: That should have been well within his realm of adolescent male mastery.
Isaac: None of the teachers could give him any guidance either. I think he probably found out who Frazetta was but thought that he must be mistaken. But I knew what you were getting at.
Hamza: That painting was dramatic, atmospheric and tempestuous, like a Frazetta cloudscape illuminated by a lightning bolt.
Isaac: Right, it would have been easy to envision Conan slaying a serpent in the foreground. But he didn't see it that way...
Hamza: He was thinking that Frazetta would be like another Rothko. Which would be incredible if that actually were your project as an artist! Creating a link between Frazetta and Rothko. Can you imagine legitimizing Frazetta? That would be a supreme accomplishment. You would have forever created a space for yourself in Art History.
Isaac: The realm of your adolescent male mastery would infinitely expand...
Hamza: Or, go further than Frazetta! Can you imagine legitimizing...oh what's the other one? He's just like Frazetta only more sexual. He speaks more directly to male sexual fantasy...
Isaac: Boris Vallejo?
Hamza: Yeah, can you imagine legitimizing Boris Vallejo in contemporary art? That would be a supreme achievement, as well as a profound exploration of the meaning of male sexuality.
Isaac: Isn't he team painting with someone now? Like a female alter ego. I can't remember her name... (Her name is Julie Bell)
Hamza: Yeah! And the weird thing is, she looks like one of the women from his paintings! She was a former body builder.
Isaac: It's like Pygmalion.
Hamza: The manifestation of male adolescent desire. Do you know Berni Wrightson?
Isaac: Of course! Remember the early Swamp Thing with Berni Wrightson and Alan Moore? Those issues were a revolution in comics. The first of the literate form. And it just kept going, centered around Alan Moore. The Watchmen, V for Vendetta, Batman...
Hamza: I have all of those! I have all of the early Swamp Things, from number one until Moore and Wrightson quit. In mint condition.
Isaac: Wow! Have you checked the blue book on those lately?
Hamza: I can't bring myself to look.
Isaac: They are really valuable.
Hamza: I know. Acquiring those Swamp Things was my first curatorial experience. I got into them about issue 10 and the back issues were already growing quickly in value. I had to ask my dad for 60 dollars to acquire the back issues, and convince him that it was a sound investment. Eventually I was able to win him over, and I still have all of them in mint condition!
And the rest of the conversation descends into supreme comic nerdom... the realm of adolescent male mastery...