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A Conversation with Todd Balthazor

By Rachel Kimpton. Walker Gallery Assistants. Yes, I’m speaking of the uniformed men and women who stand guard in the galleries, keeping the art safe and silently witnessing the path you take from one painting to the next. But what goes on behind and beyond the job of being a Walker gallery assistant? What do gallery assistants have […]

By Rachel Kimpton.

Walker Gallery Assistants. Yes, I’m speaking of the uniformed men and women who stand guard in the galleries, keeping the art safe and silently witnessing the path you take from one painting to the next. But what goes on behind and beyond the job of being a Walker gallery assistant? What do gallery assistants have to say? And what do they have to… draw? For Todd Balthazor, art is always on his mind, whether he’s monitoring it in a white cube or doodling it on a white page. This Saturday, be sure to meet him, draw with him, and have his sense of humor be your guide to the galleries.

I chatted with Todd about his childhood, inspirations, and — of course! — drawing.

Todd, on the job as a monitor.

 

1. Where did you grow up?

I grew up in East Bethel off of Coon Lake.  There I spent most of my time either drifting through the weed beds in my canoe, wandering in the woods, climbing trees and building forts.

2. Do you have a specific memory from your childhood that stands out?

In third grade, Nancy Carlson came to my school and read one of her books to our class.  She signed my copy and I remember intensely watching the way her pen made its mark on the paper as she drew.  And, just this last year, I had Nancy Carlson as a teacher for a children’s book class at my college! It was such a memorable moment in my life to reconnect with such a big childhood influence and to feel myself still being driven by the same passion.

3. Tell us about your imaginary friends, past and present.

I never really had much of an imaginary friend, but as a kid playing with toys, I would start to think of what kind of person this toy was, or what their world was like and how they would interact with it.  I think that kind of imaginary play transferred into my story telling practice.  Now I draw a character and just start imagining the same kind of scenario. I come up with a story; draw a picture while inventing a narrative behind it.

4. When did you first become interested in comics?

I remember, even before I was able to read, that one of my favorite things to look at was the Sunday funny pages.  When I could read, I read all of them even if I didn’t understand them. My favorite comics were The Far Side and Calvin and Hobbes. I could really relate to Calvin on many levels!

Todd working in his studio.

5. What was your first job?

One of my first jobs was working in a daycare center.  When I walked in I think the kids were shocked to actually have a guy visit, and they all wanted to play with me right then and there.  I was pretty much hired on the spot and that was basically what I did for several years, working with kids, playing and drawing all day.

6. When did you decide to commit to a career as an artist?

Since kindergarten I knew I wanted to be an artist.  I remember how much I loved coloring and drawing, and already knowing that was what I wanted to do.

7. Tell us a little bit about your creative process. For example, how did you come up with this gallery activity?

I usually have to lock myself alone in my art room away from distractions.  Then I work all night, usually until 4 in the morning.  I like that time of day because it’s like the world has shut off and it’s just me.  Towards the back of the Sunday Pages there used to be a comic called Doodles where you could do crosswords, match ups, and draw in the spaces.  As a kid I loved these.  So, I wanted to make something like that where the art and the viewer are interacting together.

I imagined scenarios for how the art or a gallery assistant could guide you through the illustration or actively connect you with what you see.  I also started to play with the paper, folding it up to make grids.  When I made the accordion fold it hit me that I could have the front of the Walker open up as if you’ve entered the inside.

8. Who or what inspires you and your work?

I find it therapeutic to draw out my thoughts or just let my brain wander on a piece of paper.  I usually draw things to make myself laugh.  I also really enjoy sharing my work with others.  I love seeing that I drew something that makes someone laugh and it also becomes a way in which I share part of myself.

9. What is your all time favorite graphic novel or comic? 

Definitely Calvin and Hobbes.  It’s so well written and the art is amazing. As a kid, I remember reading some of those big words that Calvin would use and have no idea what that word meant, but I at least had the context of his expressions to relate it to.

10. What do you absolutely love to draw?

Animals that have just the right crazy look in their eyes.

11. What does your family do for fun?

Lots of hiking and camping and in the winter we cross country ski.

12. When you aren’t drawing (or standing guard at the Walker) you are…

I love getting together with my friends. I’m also a very active person so I’ve been training in Kung Fu for several years.  It helps me focus and has become another art form I’ve learned to enjoy.

Todd and his (then) new puppy at Walker Open Field.

(All images courtesy of the artist.)

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Come to Free First Saturday on December 1st and meet Todd in person from 11 am-2 pm. Be sure to pick up Todd’s interactive gallery activity that will have you exploring the Walker Art Center in new ways.