“When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it,” the inspirational Henry Ford quote we see every day as we drive down 144, is just the latest of many Chris Walker murals to pop up around town. He has painted murals in J.F. Gregory Park, the side of Charlie Graingers, Sterling Creek Park, and this most recent piece on the side of Exclusive Engravings. Propelled by the idea that people stuck in traffic might appreciate it, Chris was on site at 5am and knocked it out in one day.
Mural painting poses unique challenges that aren’t suited for just any artist. You must be willing to tackle massive canvases on a variety of surfaces, think cinder block, brick, or wood. You might be working in the public eye or in the privacy of someone’s home. You might spend days climbing scaffolding to paint a ceiling, or hours on your hands and knees painting a floor. To stay in the game and earn a following such as Chris Walker, you must truly love what you do.
Curious to see what inspires Chris, I ventured out to Sunbury. The home he shares with wife Susie, is nestled in moss-draped live oaks with a view of the Medway River. Chris and Susie share a mutual interest in historic preservation, restoration, and art. The couple met cleaning up a historic graveyard in Sugar Hill, Georgia, later settling there.
Their plan was to move here 4 years from now, but the opportunity presented itself and they jumped on it. Chris fell in love with the house and bought it with Susie only having seen it through a Facetime chat…at night. “I hope you like it!” he jokes with her now. I think she more than likes it. A plant lover and potter, Susie has been working on numerous gardens around the property and plans to bring her kiln down soon. The coastal art life shines inside their home. Oyster shell garland and an old shrimp boat door hang on the wall. A Chico’s historical sign he painted hangs in the living room, a piece that would lead to a local mural in Randy Bocook’s office. Next to it, a refurbished wicker chair complete with a Chris Walker designed pillow.
Like so many people born and raised in the area, Chris has come full circle. He left Savannah and Richmond Hill to attend the prestigious Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota, where he earned a degree in illustration. Upon graduation he was recruited to work for a company in Toccoa, Georgia, hand painting furniture. He credits the experience with teaching him how to paint, but, “I missed the coast so bad.”
In 2003 his father, a trim carpenter, was working on a home in The Ford Field and River and Club. Painters were struggling to get the right finish on the walls, and he suggested Chris might be able to antique them. Local interior designer, Jone Bremer afforded him the opportunity. “…from there, I painted a mural in the dining room, then a few weeks later had another job there and it kind of snowballed.” Mural opportunities across the Lowcountry kept him coming home. “I took it for granted growing up here.”
Chris’ work adorns the walls of numerous homes in The Ford Field and River and Club, Palmetto Bluff, and most recently a historic Henry Ford built home in Keller. The foyer boasts a sprawling Lowcountry scene in monochromatic charcoal. He even surprised the owners by adding a portrait of the home to the mural.
Like most working artists, he struggles to find time for personal projects. Susie recalls showing Chris a Lily Pulitzer wallpaper that she liked one night. “I’m going to paint my own Lily Pulitzer wallpaper, you go to bed,” Chris said. The next morning, Susie woke up to a Sunbury themed mural, complete with illustrations of the local peacocks, crabs, oysters, historical arch, and the famed Papa T shrimp boat. I’d take that over Lily Pulitzer any day.
Lowcountry life clearly fuels his creativity. “The smell you get off the salt air like molasses from the marsh, it’s my coffee,” says Chris. Their home is perfectly situated to catch the sunrise and sunset, and their big plans for the property are just getting started. The initial idea to turn the garage into an open studio space got an upgrade when they purchased the vacant lot across the street. Now they have a blank canvas from which to build. “We want it to be a creative space where Arts on the Coast can come have plein air painting or pottery.” They plan to engage the local community much like his murals do in Richmond Hill. I tell him he must have saltwater in his veins, to which he replied “that’s the direction of my art.”