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Artist on the outs

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Roger Walker has rolled with his share of punches and plaudits both over the years. He’d been homeless for years when established local artist Wes Mills “discovered” him in 2002, introducing Walker and his dense pen-on-paper drawings to the fine-art world of galleries and commission sales. Under Mills’ patronage, Walker’s art found its way into the hands of collectors and far-flung galleries; Mills hosted Walker’s first-ever exhibition at his own Farm Art Space in February 2003, and helped negotiate a 2005 Walker exhibition at the Missoula Art Museum. Mills himself purchased Walker’s drawings in bulk, helping provide a modest income that allowed Walker to move into a subsidized apartment in the Northside’s Gold Dust Building.

But on April 18, the Gold Dust evicted Walker, apparently for non-payment of rent (property management declined to comment on Walker’s eviction). And while Walker appears somewhat confused about why he’s back on the street and reliant on the kindness of friends for meals—“They sent a form letter, I guess,” he says, pulling a folded, coffee-stained correspondence from his pants pocket—the change of circumstance seems to have been well foreshadowed.

Mills says he told Walker last July that he planned to stop guaranteeing his $240 a month rent in six months. Walker first got behind on his rent in January.

Mills says he “tried everything” to help Walker make a stable life for himself, though their relationship was non-contractual and informal. And when Mills’ financial position changed last summer, he says, he could no longer afford to support Walker the way he had.

When the money stopped flowing, Walker seems to have been left at a loss. Asked about his relationship with Mills, Walker answers: “Don’t know. Before I knew it, he wasn’t buying the artwork anymore.”

Still, Walker’s friends and supporters, with an assist from Mills, are now organizing a First Friday showing of Walker’s work—featuring a silent auction, with proceeds going to Walker—scheduled for June 2 at the Gold Dust Gallery. Walker says he hopes the show will generate enough money to get him back into an apartment, where he can attempt to sell his art directly. In the meantime, he’s still spending several hours each day putting ink to paper, as he’s done for the past 20 years, if only to pass the time.

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