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For Andrew Walker, art has always been more than a form of self-expression; it is his way of dealing with Alport syndrome, a chronic illness that has affected him since childhood. In his December exhibition at Germantown’s iMPeRFeCT Gallery, My Organ Life, he brings that experience, and the artistic style it has inspired, to life.
Alport syndrome is a genetic condition that causes progressive loss of kidney function by preventing the kidneys from filtering blood properly. It also causes hearing loss and eye abnormalities. As a child, Walker coped with the disease by developing a colorful and instinctive drawing style. Now in his 50s, Walker is bringing that style and experience to My Organ Life.
The art of organ donation
“My Organ Life is about living with chronic illness while trying to create an awareness of the importance of organ donation,” says Walker, who received a kidney donation when he was a teenager. “There are images of organs that can be transplanted, blood tests, medicine bottles, written words related to my illness, and much more.”
In 2010, Walker earned his MFA. His work began to reflect his interest in environmental themes. In 2012, he worked with artist Andrew Heisey to develop the Renewed Urban Studio Tent, a project using recycled materials to build new structures. In 2015, he presented the River Valley Project, a two-year study of the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia, consisting of digital images and more traditional drawing techniques.
Today, Walker is once again facing the uncertainty of illness as his 44-year-old transplanted kidney begins to deteriorate. The anxiety he felt as a child coping with the disease has resurfaced, and so Walker has returned to the roots of his artistic practice.
“Now my work has come full circle along with my health,” he explains. “Therefore, my drawings have become more colorful, bolder and simplistic, and the subject matter more personal.”
Illness and healing, pain and happiness
“Healing is a special part of art. Some of us get it by just making art. There is something so important to me about addressing the life-threatening issues in my life and then giving them a colorful setting. It makes me feel better about my situation. I feel I can cope with the stress and sometimes even laugh at it, as some of my pictures are funny,” he says.
But Walker’s work is no longer just about healing himself. Through My Organ Life, he hopes to help viewers understand how living with a chronic illness impacts a person’s life and to give encouragement to those who find themselves in the same boat.
“I think when others look at my work, they can see the pain, but they can also see the colors and brightness and hopefully feel some optimism,” he says. “Pain, sorrow, and happiness are not mutually exclusive. They can work together to bring purity and enlightenment.”
Perhaps more importantly, Walker hopes to advocate for organ donation, something that has enhanced his quality of life for decades. A panel discussion on the issue will be held at the gallery on Wednesday, December 12, at 7pm, with doctors, donors, and ambassadors from the Gift of Life Donor Program speaking.
My Organ Life runs December 1 through 22 at iMPeRFeCT Gallery (5539 Germantown Avenue, Philadelphia). There’s an opening reception on December 1 from 6pm to 9 pm. The gallery is open Wednesday through Saturday from 1pm to 6pm or by appointment.
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