SAM WALSH (1934 - 1989)

W.H.Auden (1966/7)

© the artist's estate. Photo credit: The Williamson Art Gallery & Museum

Sam Walsh appears to have been a widely liked man, known for his dry wit and natural charm. Born in Enniscorthy, County Wexford, Ireland, Walsh began his journey into Liverpool’s art world when he came to the city “for the weekend” having spent five years in London after studying at Dublin College of Art.


Walsh and Adrian Henri first established their strong connection together as artists after he moved to a bedsit at 24 Falkner Square in 1960, living above Henri who occupied the basement. The pair exhibited together frequently, their bold styles complementing each other. Music was a huge influence on both, and for a time they performed as a folk singing duo. Artists and musicians in Liverpool at this time often overlapped, with the social scene in Liverpool 8 bringing them together as co-performers and friends.


In 1962 they issued a “manifesto” and showed together at London’s Portal Gallery, where after the opening they were introduced to Francis Bacon by George Melly. Later that year Melly went on to buy Walsh’s It’s Red Down There from another joint show at Hope Hall – the forerunner of Liverpool’s Everyman Theatre.


Henri later wrote: “Walsh and I occasionally referred to ourselves jokily as ‘Modern Jazz’ artists rather than ‘Pop’ artists, contrasting the love of kitsch and Victoriana of London with the free-form improvisation of New York.”


Walsh is widely known for his portraiture, which draws on commissions, friends or famous people from the world of literature - including heroes such as Samuel Beckett, William Burroughs and W. H. Auden - art, politics and film.


A renowned draughtsman, Walsh’s paintings often stemmed from photographs. He sometimes used mechanical techniques such as an episcope, which allowed him to project an image onto a canvas. He also experimented with a variety of painting methods, including a shift in the mid-late 1960s from traditional oil painting towards acrylics and household paints and applying his paints using commercial aerosol cans, compressors and airbrushing. Together with this particular change in approach came a change in subject as Walsh turned his attention to works such as Interior and 1970’s Private View.


The idea of what might be described as art as diary, seems ever present in Walsh’s work, and is evident in the two-man shows that Walsh and Don McKinlay held at the Bluecoat in 1980 and 1983: Going Backwards and Between Ourselves, both allowing for temporal portraits of the artists and their times. His partner Ros McAllister has noted: “Sam was fascinated by icons, but more importantly he saw faces (and bodies) as landscapes.”

Walsh died, aged 55, in 1989. A career retrospective was held at the Walker Art Gallery in 1991.