Like many artists before him, Joe Walters has a deep-seated fascination with the natural world. “I’ve always been interested in the phenomena involved with nature and the germination between life and death,” Walters says. “You can always see it around you, especially when walking in a wooded area.” The sculptor says that during such hikes, he finds inspiration in the debris on the forest floor as well as the decaying trees and branches surrounding him. “Observing those dying things presents an interesting juxtaposition with all the living things in the forest, including animals and vegetation,” he says.
The James Island resident’s nature-inspired pieces are featured in an upcoming solo show at Corrigan Gallery. A Riff on Nests includes 18 abstract interpretations of a classic bird’s nest. “The sculptures are forms that suggest nests, not strict illustrations,” he explains. “I’ve always liked birds and the nests that are associated with them, so I took the idea and ran with it, just like a musician does when they’re playing spontaneously.”
Walters’ work typically features vegetation and animals, primarily birds. “In a formal way, working with nature allows me more compositional opportunities. My pieces are more lyrical,” he says. “My work is now truly mixed media, and my process has evolved greatly over time.” The artist creates his works in his home studio, typically starting with a piece of thin rod and wire. He then connects the two pieces using a brazing technique, which allows him to attach the steel by heating, rather than welding. He then takes a piece of aluminum mesh, cuts it down to the shape he wants, and models polymer clay around it. “It always goes through several stages,” he says. “Some things I make all together, some I do in a modular way.”
A native of Kentucky, Walters received his B.A. in art from Morehead State University in 1974, followed by an M.F.A. in sculpture from East Carolina University in 1981. He worked as a graphic designer for years, eventually serving as an adjunct professor of graphic design at Winthrop University in Rock Hill. After receiving the S.C. Arts Commission Visual Arts Fellowship in 1994, Walters was able to quit his day job and began pursuing fine arts as a full-time career. It also prompted him to move downstate.
“I was already thinking about moving, but the fellowship required in-state residency, so I decided that I’d move down to Charleston,” Walters says. “The fellowship gave me enough money to live meagerly at first. And a couple of small commissions and some sales really did go a long way.” He was eventually picked up by a gallery in Charlotte, where he worked for a short amount of time, though he’s now primarily represented by Solomon Projects in Atlanta, as well as Bernice Steinbaum Gallery in Miami and Joie Lassiter Gallery in Charlotte.
The upcoming show at the Corrigan Gallery marks the first Charleston exhibition for the Lowcountry resident. “I always stayed busy working with the other galleries, but also wanted to have a presence in Charleston,” Walters says. “This seemed like the right time to do it, and I thought that this gallery was the right fit for my work.”