Artist Profile: John Walter

1 April 2021

This month we highlight John Walter who recently presented at the Kickstarter event for the National Partners Programme Youth Collaborative Project. Having just returned from his residency at Kavli Institute in the Netherlands, Walter was able to join the online event and give a presentation on his recent projects, his works in the Collection, and signature approach to making for the young people in attendance from their respective groups at Sunderland Culture, Newlyn Art Gallery & The Exchange, and Firstsite, Colchester. 

John Walter’s work encompasses a diverse range of media, including painting, drawing, artist’s books, sculpture, costume, performance, video, sound, installation, spatial design and curating. His oeuvre is characterised by an exuberant use of colour and pattern, what he calls a maximalist approach, in addition to an absurdist and tragicomic use of humour. He works in series, producing iterative bodies of work that accumulate to form large and distinct projects,  as he explains “my work begins as a visual diary, which rapidly gives way to a form of autoethnographic painting; I create pictorial fictions that conflate my personal narratives with the voices of others. Images and phrases gathered in books become the building blocks for surreal hybrids, which then become scaffolding for larger drawn compositions, then paintings, videos and ultimately installations.”

Walter often collaborates with individuals and institutions such as other artists, scientists and museums in order to exchange images, ideas and narratives. The 17 works by Walter in the Arts Council Collection, which include works on paper, paintings, sculpture, costumes and video, are a testament to one such collaboration: CAPSID (2018–19) of 250 artworks, was the result of a collaboration between the artist and molecular virologist Professor Greg Towers of University College London. 


The following exhibition addressed a crisis of representation surrounding viruses such as HIV, by bringing new scientific knowledge about viral capsids to the attention of the wider public. Using the imagery and narratives associated with research around capsids to create an immersive, multi-media installation, Walter strove to deliver non-mainstream ideas to viewers in entertaining ways, with an emphasis on privileging the handmade, the awkward and the asymmetrical, an aesthetic the artist describes as ‘shonky’.

The title of A Virus Walks Into A Bar, 2018 came about after Walter began working on the CAPSID project. When he was asked what it was about, he found himself replying, ‘Imagine a virus walks into a bar…’ This storytelling expression struck Walter as a suitable way to narrate the life cycle of the virus in a clear, accessible way that anyone could understand – scientist, artist or other.

Watch and listen to Walter describe this work in the clip below:



The Arts Council Collection is the UK's most widely seen collection of modern and contemporary art.

With more than 8,000 works by over 2,000 artists, it can be seen in exhibitions and public displays across the country and beyond. This website offers unprecedented access to the Collection, and information about each work can be found on this site.