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Michael Crichton’s death this past week seems to have been lost in the protracted celebration around Obama’s victory, but his passing is worthy of a pause. I was never a big fan of his novels but like many other culture watchers, have been flabbergasted by the prodigious scope of his interests, intellect and output.

I had a personal encounter with Crichton several years ago, and it left a lasting impression on me. I have to be candid and say right up front how uncomfortable I am with the “my encounter with a celebrity” anecdotal form. In a culture that has made a multi-billion dollar industry around celebritism, it feels awkward (and a pathetic attempt at high mindedness) to create a distinction between the transgressive invasiveness of Gawker et al and my one up story about talking with a cultural luminary. But I’m willing to take that risk because the content of that encounter is worth repeating.

While I was staying at a swanky spa near Tucson, I signed up for a hike organized for the guests. Because I’m a fast walker, it didn’t take long to move ahead of the rest of the hikers. Just one other guest seemed interested in keeping a fast pace as well, so the two of us ended up doing the mountain climb together.

Off on our own, we began to talk. My lanky companion seemed to have something intelligent and informed to say about every topic I brought up, from painting to politics to science to psychology. Very early into this exchange I realized I was having one of the most fascinating conversations of my life.

I know a lot of very intelligent people who are extremely well read and love to talk, but this guy was different. I have never had a protracted conversation with someone with that breadth of knowledge who was also so self-effacing. There was no name-dropping or a subtextual need to be right. He listened carefully to what I was saying, something I have found to be an extremely rare quality in most people.

I didn’t know who my hiking companion was until we reached the summit and the guide took me aside to whisper his identity in my ear. But because Crichton had been so unpretentious and open, it didn’t really seem to matter.

On the hike back down, we went deeper into more controversial topics. Genuinely curious about what he thought, I steered our conversation towards the paranormal. As a graduate of Harvard Medical School, he was not a likely candidate for open-mindedness on edgy issues like crop circles, energy healing and psychic insight. But I was wrong. He freely shared a few nonlinear experiences of his own.

He said that he used to subscribe to an extremely linear, rational worldview. But one of his wives (there were 5 or 6—in sequence of course!) had a close friend whose profession was advising Fortune 50 companies on future trends. “Her entire methodology was non-analytical and intuition-based, but she was so good she had retainers with a variety of major corporations who consulted with her on a regular basis.”

At first Crichton was skeptical. But he said that he had to change his point of view fairly quickly when she repeatedly demonstrated her uncanny ability to read his mind and know things she had no business knowing.

“The first time I met her she came to stay with us in Kauai. At the time I was just learning Microsoft Word and couldn’t quite figure out how to format my manuscript. I struggled silently while she was working on her own in the other room. As I sat there puzzling over my problem, I suddenly hear her calling to me without provocation on my part. ‘Michael, there are actually four different ways in which you can format that page.’ She then proceeded to list each of them in detail. After that experience, I quit questioning her skills.”

So she sensed that he was struggling with formatting a page in Word? Big deal. But here’s the clincher. He had just come up with the idea for the series ER, and he went to Hollywood to shop it around. He could find no takers. The feedback he received from nearly everyone was, “Your idea is too technical for the average couch potato television watcher. No one will be able to understand anything that is going on. It just isn’t a viable idea.”

When he got back to Kauai, he told his psychic friend about his unilateral lack of success. Without a moment’s hesitation she told him, “You have to do this! It will be a phenomenal success. Fund it yourself.”

So that’s exactly what he did. And of course that series ushered in a huge new genre, medical procedure television.

What I liked about the way he told this story was the respect he had for what lay outside his ability to reason. “I don’t understand how she and people like her know what they know. It doesn’t fit with any of the western models of reality I have studied. But I have to give it a place at the table nonetheless.”

Many people have talked about Crichton’s contrarianism. He questioned the validity of global warming in his novel State of Fear, and that position led to him being sucked into the vacuum of antiscientism that characterized the horrible, awful, thank the lord it’s almost over Bush administration. Being a contrarian is one thing, but the timing on that particular topic was extremely inopportune. And many found his scathing book about sexual harassment, Disclosure, both inflammatory and anti-female. The view in that book is bleak, to be sure.

But I couple those accusations with my 5-hour stream of consciousness conversation with him. His open, expansive mind was in full frontal display, and that experience makes it easier for me to view him as an incredibly curious thinker who sometimes was, like the rest of us, just plain wrong.

Ty Burr of the Boston Globe wrote a more thorough homage to Crichton’s life and work. I like Burr’s evenhanded view of Crichton’s oeuvre and have included his piece below as a counterpoint:

For better and occasionally for worse, Michael Crichton’s 6-foot-9 frame loomed over the culture like an educated T. Rex. Without the novelist/screenwriter/director, who died Tuesday at 66 of cancer, there would be no “Jurassic Park,” “Andromeda Strain,” or “ER.” On the other hand, without Crichton, there would also be no “Congo,” “The Lost World,” or “Disclosure.” The films he contributed to are a varied lot, and some of them are downright awful (including a few he directed himself, such as “Looker” and “Runaway”). The tension in any Crichton project was always between the high intelligence of the central concept and the lowdown pulp verve of the storytelling. Sometimes the pulp won. Sometimes that made for a better novel or movie. Other times, not so much.

But what a strange career the man had, from Harvard Medical School to the top of the book and movie charts, to Hollywood blockbusters, to tortuous best-selling jeremiads against Japanese businessmen and global warming activists. The consistent themes of his work are the consequences of man’s own hubris and a thoroughgoing paranoia. Someone is always coming up with a brilliant notion in Crichton, and it always goes kablooey. Bring dinosaurs back to life? OK, but they’ll escape and gobble you up. Organ transplants? Fine, until the medical establishment starts harvesting them for profit. Robots? Forget about the robots: They’ll shoot you down (“Westworld”) or come after you with knives (“Runaway”). Plastic surgery, biotech implants, chasing tornadoes? All terrible, terrible ideas (“Looker,” “The Terminal Man,” “Twister”).

After a while his high-minded anxiety spilled over into social paranoias like Japanese economic competitiveness (“Rising Sun”) and predatory women in the workplace (“Disclosure”), and the books and films became smaller and more shrill. Crichton’s milieu, it turned out, was that of the what-if, not the what now?

In person, he was by all accounts a good and gracious man, and one absolutely driven to create. Who knows what the motor was, but impatience and impossibly high standards seemed to have played a part. This is a man who dropped his Harvard English major because the professors didn’t like his writing; in other words, he was too good for them. Crichton wrote his first bestsellers under a pseudonym (two of them, actually) while going to med school; he had published seven by the time he got his degree. By then, he had also already served as a visiting fellow in anthropology at Cambridge. The egghead credentials were part of the persona that developed over the decades. Crichton’s work, even at its poppiest, had to be taken seriously because he was, you know, smarter than you.

At their best, his books and movies work precisely because of that tension between Harvard and Hollywood, between Crichton the academic wonk and Crichton the commercial player. “The Andromeda Strain” (novel 1969, movie 1971) was a bolt from the blue when it came out: A crackerjack suspense tale about a team of scientists on the track of a killer germ from outer space, the film grounded its B-movie premise with A-level science. It was also scary as hell. “Westworld” (1973), his first film as director, gave us Yul Brynner as a malfunctioning gunslinger cyborg – an image for the ages (and one slated for an upcoming remake).

With “Terminal Man” (1974, directed by Mike Hodges) and “Coma” (1978, based on a Robin Cook novel but adapted and directed by Crichton), the filmmaker’s limitations became apparent: His science-based gravitas blinded him to the inherent B-movie pleasures of his own plots. “Coma,” in particular, seemed oblivious to the ghoulish silliness of its central image, that of comatose patients strung up in a warehouse by the dozens. (Although it did provide one of the goofier lines of dialogue in film history, when Genevieve Bujold breathlessly exclaims “Zey’re pooting patients in a coma!”)

Crichton stumbled through the ’70s and ’80s – the standout is the atypical period heist film “The Great Train Robbery” (1979), an overlooked gem featuring a fine Sean Connery performance – but relocated his mojo with “Jurassic Park,” a project that delivered on one of the richest what-ifs imaginable: What if dinosaurs ruled the earth – again? Steven Spielberg took the best-selling novel to glory on the screen, underscoring once again how Crichton’s ideas needed a great director to realize them to their utmost.

The results live on as a four-star studio theme park ride, and it’s no coincidence at all that “Jurassic Park” is about an actual theme park; whether the writer intended it or not, the story works as a metaphor for the best-laid plans of the entertainment industry going deliciously awry. I’d like to think it wasn’t an accident but a knowing reflection of its creator’s dual selves. Crichton was a paradox in action: a successful crank, a showman with graduate degrees, and a creative force who, when it all clicked, got us high on apocalypse.


Election Day, finally.

I have lost personal access to the timbre of evenhandedness in this political season, so it was with fascination that I read Eve LaPlante’s feature piece in the Boston Globe yesterday. She explores current research that suggests the hard-wired, biological and somewhat predetermined nature of a political point of view. A correlation has been found between susceptibility to the perception of threats and a politically conservative orientation. It just may be that political dialog has less to do with persuasive arguments and rationality than I have supposed, which is not particularly heartening news.

If our political orientation is in fact a issue of biocoding, it seems that political campaigns in the future will have a different intent and methodology. Is is our biological destiny to be a nation divided? Who knows.

Here’s an excerpt from the Globe piece:

As we cast our vote for president on Tuesday, we may imagine that our choice is based on a thoughtful consideration of the issues, shaped, perhaps, by past experience and our circumstances, such as where we live and whom we speak with. In large part, we assume, our vote is something over which we exert conscious, mental control. Media coverage reinforces this assumption, with “Decision ’08” monikers and endless charts of candidates’ positions and party platforms. Indeed, our vision of democracy is founded on the belief that voters actually consider both candidates and make a rational decision as to which one is best for America.

Yet scientists are now discovering that our political attitudes have deep roots in our biology. Our place on the political spectrum – liberal, conservative, or in between – is powerfully influenced by genetics, new studies show. In the past year, researchers have demonstrated that the brains of liberals and conservatives are physically and functionally distinctive, suggesting that people on either side of the ideological divide are actually wired differently. And new research, published this fall in the prestigious journal Science, found that our immediate, unconscious reaction to threat – how much we startle at frightening images and noises – determines our political views on specific issues like gun control, national defense, the Iraq war, domestic surveillance, the torture of political prisoners, and even immigration.

“Political reactions are gut responses rather than a rational weighing of pros and cons,” said Kevin Smith, a University of Nebraska political scientist who coauthored the Science study. “Our research shows that these reactions are so deep-seated, they’re partly biological. Our biological makeup contributes to our political attitudes.”

The work of Smith and his colleagues is driving an emerging field, sometimes called “political physiology,” that challenges traditional views of politics. There is still room for a considered examination of issues. But the new research suggests we are not merely swayed, here and there, by emotional appeals. Our fundamental political framework is shaped by gut feelings with deep biological roots. Much of the research into political ideology points to the central role of the limbic system, which contains some of the brain’s oldest structures, in an evolutionary sense, and is responsible for such instinctive functions as smell, sexual response, and fear.

What emerges is a new view of politics as remarkably visceral and, to some extent, inherited, which may limit the possibilities for agreement across the classic divides – red state vs. blue state, conservative vs. liberal. When we debate issues, in other words, we do not so much argue a political position as assert who we are.

“Those who want an end to political bickering will have to come to terms with the fact that being conservative or being liberal is often genetically based and therefore unlikely to be jawboned or reformed away,” said John Alford, a Rice University political scientist who is involved in the new field.

As political physiologists study how political ideology works at its most basic level, they find that liberals and conservatives experience the world differently. Conservatives are more easily startled by threats, and when performing a habitual task they have more difficulty switching to a new response. Liberals, on the other hand, react less vigorously to threatening stimuli, and in performing a habitual task they are quicker to provide a new response.

“There is a seeming disjuncture between the popular belief that conservatives are strong and rational, and liberals are more touchy-feely – and increasing physiological evidence that the reverse may actually be true,” said Rose McDermott, a Stanford University political scientist.

Scholarly analysis of political ideology ignored biology until recently. From Aristotle onward, philosophers analyzed political behavior and other aspects of human nature from the outside, without venturing inside the functioning brain. Eighteenth-century Enlightenment thinkers propounded models of society in which people make thoughtful decisions about how government should be run.

In the 20th century, scholars began to explore the influence of culture, economic status, and other environmental factors on the development of political opinions. Yet these approaches stopped short of including biology, in part because the tools (such as brain scans) were not available, said John Hibbing, a political scientist at the University of Nebraska.

Hibbing, a leading figure in the new field, said a turning point was a Rice University study of identical and fraternal twins, published three years ago in the American Political Science Review. Using data from a large-scale study of thousands of sets of twins, researchers discovered that identical twins are far more likely than fraternal twins to share political attitudes on busing, foreign aid, school prayer, gay rights, pacifism, nuclear power, and many other issues. “Political and social attitudes” are “40-50 percent heritable,” the study reported.

“Political orientations such as liberalism and conservatism,” the study concluded, have “a significant genetic component.”

John Alford, one of the study’s authors, said that these genetic study results, along with his reading of Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker’s “The Blank Slate,” persuaded him and other scholars to embark on a quest to uncover the physical correlates of political ideology. Pinker’s book argues against the popular conception of the brain as a blank slate, which in his view skews research across disciplines, in favor of the notion that the brain possesses innate qualities that influence individual experience and opinions.

“To what degree are we political scientists guilty of implicitly assuming that the human brain is a blank slate?” Alford recalls wondering. Does political ideology have roots in biology? Could genes predict how someone might vote?

The next step for the young field was to look for ways that genetics and biology might affect social and political opinions. “We needed to find an actual path from genetics to how people feel about political issues of the day,” Hibbing said, “and then to see what physical systems are involved in these feelings about politics…”

After examining 46 such subjects, researchers found a strong correlation between subjects’ political attitudes and their physiological responses to threat. People who showed more “blink startle” and perspiration after a threatening stimulus tended to cluster on the right politically. They advocated capital punishment, school prayer, and defense spending, and they supported the Iraq war.

In contrast, liberals – who supported “less protectionist” policies such as gun control, open immigration, and increased foreign aid – showed significantly less physical response to the threatening stimuli. While education had some effect on the results, subjects’ blink and skin-conductance responses were much better predictors of their political attitudes. And the degree to which a person was startled by threatening stimuli indicated how much he or she advocated policies that protect society from external and internal threats such as wars and crime.

Our inborn response to threat underlies our political ideology, the study suggests. The researchers’ political questionnaire was limited to issues they could track along a spectrum of threats – that is, “whether or not something is perceived as corrosive of the social order,” Hibbing explained. In this way, support of school prayer, “biblical truth,” “patriotism,” and defense spending was more protectionist, whereas support for abortion, open immigration, gun control, foreign aid, pacifism, abortion, and same-sex marriage was less protectionist.

When researchers compared subjects’ physical responses with their political opinions, they found a striking correlation. “It was clear,” Hibbing said, “that some individuals have certain central-nervous-system reactions in the part of the brain involved in fear – there’s a genetic basis for this – and this brain activity underlies both their startle response and their political views…”

These studies mark the beginning of an effort to define brain functions and map brain regions that are involved in political attitudes. “Conservatives show more structured and persistent cognitive styles,” Amodio’s Nature Neuroscience study concluded, “whereas liberals are more responsive to informational complexity, ambiguity, and novelty.”

Based on these two studies, then, conservatives are more sensitive to threats than liberals, and liberals are more responsive to new cues.

Ultimately, biological differences between people with divergent political views may turn on “something deeper” than the conventional liberal-conservative axis, said Nebraska’s Smith. Lacking further data, it’s hard to put into words. “It may be that some people are more ‘traditionalistic’ – they like stronger leadership, stick with convictions, and believe rule breakers should be punished, not forgiven or rehabilitated – whereas other people are more open to ‘out’ groups and new ideas. These fundamental orientations are found across cultures.”

Indeed, the finding that people who feel strongly about politics cluster at two ideological extremes may suggest that our two-party system has a biological basis, said Hibbing.

“This broad left-right orientation pervades American politics and exists across the world and across time,” he said. He speculated that “25 to 30 percent” of the population at large falls into each camp, liberal and conservative, leaving slightly less than half of the population in the middle. These are the independents, or swing voters, who influence close races.

Simply knowing that our political preferences have physiological sources “may make us a little more humble, a little less quick to say, ‘My opponent is simply stupid,’ ” Hibbing said.

In fact, viewed through the long lens of evolutionary time, it would seem that the two camps depend on each other. A person who’s hard-wired to protect himself from danger may be able to avoid getting eaten by an attacking tiger – while his neighbor, who’s hard-wired to adapt to change, may sense an impending Ice Age in time to escape.

This is the reassuring note offered by political physiology at the end of another long, divisive American presidential campaign.

“The biological variation between liberals and conservatives is itself adaptive,” Alford said. “As loath as the two groups are to admit it, the checks and balances provided by the presence of the other orientation may make society stronger.”

I’ve been a big fan of Tara Donovan for several years, and I am very excited to see her new show at the ICA in Boston this week. I bought the catalog for the show in anticipation, and it is excellent–authored by Nicholas Baume, Jen Mergel and Lawrence Weschler (LW is a particular personal favorite.) The images captured in the book knock me out.

I’ve posted Sebastian Smee’s review from the Boston Globe on Slow Painting if you want to read the entire piece. Here is an excerpt from his review that touches on one of my ongoing aesthetic themes—the role of beauty and how it is played out in contemporary visual language.

More excerpts from the book will be forthcoming.

Of course, it’s nice to encounter almost any proposition about beauty these days – even one as potentially ironic as Donovan’s. Until a few years ago, beauty’s repression in contemporary art was almost absolute. No one talked about it, hardly anyone peddled in it. If they did, they did it furtively, guiltily, always making out that other things – more “important” things – were on their mind.

Beauty has enjoyed a bit of a comeback in recent years. But there has been something willed and strained about the revival. Most recent discussions of beauty are about as appealing as a laborious explanation of a bad joke.

Donovan’s unabashedly beautiful work is a step or two forward from all this. It is not only beautiful, it is relaxed about being so, leaving her scope to admit all kinds of subtleties and ironies into her fantastically simple, if labor-intensive, forms.

Seeing Mark Morris dance the part of Dido and her alter ego The Sorceress at the Boston premiere of “Dido and Aeneas” in 1989 was one of those nights at the theatre I’ve never forgotten. What a fortuitous combination of Purcell’s music, exquisitely ordered but emotionally fraught, with Morris’ infectiously seductive, inventive and extremely contemporary choreography. But the “over the top” energy came from seeing Morris in his element, embodying the de-gendering of dance that he began at the beginning of his career. He was utterly arresting as Queen Dido. I never wanted the performance to come to an end.

On Wednesday we went to see the production again. In the 19 years between these performances, Morris has continued to go both horizontal and vertical in his choreographic explorations. His sensibilities about how movement and music come together have made him a legend throughout the world. This time he did not dance the part of the Queen but conducted the musicians and singers of Emmanuel Music.

Having the part of Dido and the Sorceress danced by a woman, Amber Darragh (who was stunning in both roles), shifted the theatrical experience of the piece. Much the way you can see 10 different productions of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream and find yourself enchanted by each one, I was spellbound by this version as well. I agree with Thea Singer’s comments about how the casting change shifted the performance, offering up yet another moving envisioning of this story of heartbreak. (Singer’s review appeared in the Boston Globe and has been included at the bottom of this post.)

Ever since seeing the production on Wednesday night I have been thinking about artists who can build on an existing classical form–be it poetry, music or art–and crack open new and exciting territory. The ones that work are not simply revisions or retellings–new wine in old bottles–but an elixir with the fragrance of the familiar as well as something you can’t quite identify. The foundational respect for the original work is there but in perfect balance with what has been melded in. Morris climbs into Purcell’s music and alchemizes it with contemporary movement. It is a kind of evocation.

I asked similar questions about Richard Meier’s controversial museum in Rome, the Ara Pacis. It’s a worthy topic for further exploration, so more to come on these issues.

In the beginning – 1989, when it premiered – Mark Morris’s magnificent opera-cum-dance “Dido and Aeneas” was Mark Morris. The then-34-year-old not only choreographed its exquisitely interlocking gestures and stomps and bold architectonic traffic to Purcell’s 1689 opera, he also played two lead characters: Dido, the noble queen of Carthage, and the Sorceress, who’s bent on Dido’s undoing because the former is so much like herself.

He stopped dancing in the piece in 2000. No one, I thought, could take the place of Morris – big-boned and master of the shimmy, curly locks flying – in the dual role. But Wednesday night’s performance, presented by Celebrity Series of Boston at the Cutler Majestic Theatre, proved that maybe no one has to.

Mark Morris is larger than life. With him at its core, “Dido and Aeneas” was, yes, the tragic love-and-loss story Purcell had derived from Virgil’s “Aeneid,” but it was also about him: Morris’s sexuality, Morris’s daring, Morris’s preoccupation with divining the two sides of a single coin: “one noble, one ignoble, version of the same truth,” as Joan Acocella put it in her 1993 biography of him.

Yet this rendition of “Dido” – with Amber Darragh in the dual role of Queen/Sorceress on Wednesday night – may suit Morris’s stylized, ritualistic choreography even better than the original. Darragh, too, is big boned, with curls asunder (though far more refined, on both counts, than Morris). She is regal as the Queen and deliciously naughty as the Sorceress. But in this production, both female leads have shrunk; they now fit neatly into the frame of the work as a whole. Morris has, as if casting a bas-relief in reverse, brought the chorus – 10 members of the Mark Morris Dance Group – to the fore.

Even though Morris has disappeared from the stage, he is still intrinsic to the performance. Here he takes over the role of conductor of the musicians, chorus, and vocal soloists of Emmanuel Music – all of them sunk in the orchestra pit while the dancers take center stage. At the start of the evening, both the dance and the music struck me as a bit tinny, lighter than I remembered them from the Morris-centric original. But as the work proceeded, either they gathered heft or I readjusted, absorbing Morris’s new vision.

With a libretto by Nahum Tate, Purcell’s opera follows Aeneas as he joins and then leaves Dido, with whom he’s smitten following the fall of Troy, when his ships wash ashore in Carthage. The Sorceress intervenes, sending a spirit to deliver a message purportedly from Jupiter hastening Aeneas on his way to Italy to found the Roman Empire. The message comes at a particularly inopportune moment: The pair have just made love (“one night enjoy’d,” chastely in the text; a single spasm in the dance), which Dido has taken as a vow of marriage. To her, even Aeneas’s thought of leaving is an ultimate betrayal. She dies from grief.

Morris’s “Dido and Aeneas” takes the tragedy and sculpts it – with angular friezes and two-dimensional posturing, hieroglyph arms and symbolic gesturing, some grafted from American Sign Language – into an emotionally gripping structure of fateful proportions. Its movements ache: Dido, her hands plastered vertically, fingertips to wrist, on her chest, shoots her legs open into a diamond. Often, among many players, a hand pushes up a torso, then exits, fingers splayed, as if spewed from the mouth. The movement, set in five scenes, is played out almost line for line to Purcell’s score. Even the 10 dancers in the chorus – be they courtiers, witches, spirits, or sailors – have distinct roles that correspond to the soprano, tenor, alto, or bass parts of the music.

It is that chorus, along with Dido’s sister, Belinda (the delicate Maile Okamura), that – even more than Dido – are the Everywoman of the “Dido” myth. They, taken together, are Everywoman betrayed, Everywoman abandoned by love. They are fate realized, with arms outstretched, wrists cocked, fingers archly splayed.

At the end of the drama, in a movement phrase that made me cry, Dido plucks at her palm, as if pulling an attenuated thread through cloth, then arcs backward. She delivers the echoing message: “Remember me! But ah! Forget my fate.” But it is the chorus, as its members exit somberly two by two through the slit in Robert Bordo’s beautiful blue Aegean Sea of a backdrop, who drive that message home: “With drooping wings ye Cupids come/And scatter roses on her tomb/Soft and gentle as her heart; Keep here your watch, and never part.”

Thea Singer
The Boston Globe

Light and Forms, by John Walker (courtesy of Nielsen Gallery)

One of Boston’s best galleries, the Nielsen Gallery on Newbury Street, recently featured a retrospective of the work of Boston painter John Walker. Born in England and now director of the graduate school of painting at Boston University, Walker is a major force field in the painting space of New England.

I’ve been a fan of his work for a long time. But this show had paintings on display that were so overwhelming I could barely keep myself upright. Every once in a while that happens, coming upon work so powerful and exquisite that it physically hurts to look at it and be with it. This intense somatic reaction sometimes knocks me out of my equilibrium for days.

Walker is a painter’s painter. His strokes are wet and lush, earthy and sensuous. Color and image are bold, risky, wild. They pulsate. His hand has mastered invitationality, the irresistible “climb in here” energy.

Boston Globe art critic Cate McQuaid began her review of the show with these words:

There’s something Shakespearean about John Walker’s paintings. His forms create a restless, driving poetry.

His paint reads as an essential force of life. Big canvases squirm with hurt and wrestle with pride. Their brooding expressionism shimmers between abstraction and representation.

Yes, yes, and more.