BILLINGS — Russell Walks owes it all to one man - well, half-man.
“When I was a little kid, I drew constantly, and I was most interested in drawing people," Walks said. "It was really tough to draw somebody recognizable because I wasn’t very good at drawing, but I could draw Mr. Spock.”
Star Trek was the quintessential science fiction show of that time, but then in 1977, a similarly-titled film named Star Wars changed everything.
“I remember drawing a storm trooper on the back of a deposit envelope in my mom’s car while we were driving," Walks said of his early influence. "It was like that light bulb moment - somebody, some person came up with that idea of how that would look. Five minutes later, it occurred to me that whoever came up with that probably got paid to do it, and so from then on, I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”
Millions of people around the world have seen Walks’ Star Wars-inspired work after years of traveling to the biggest trade shows in the industry. But COVID-19 still has most of those shuttered, which meant Walks - a longtime career center teacher - had some free time this summer to take his talents to 29th Street.
"There’s just something about being home. Every day I’ll get a former student or somebody I know to come in," Walks said of his downtown space at 116 N. 29th St. "Billings, for as small as we are, the support that we give the arts is astounding. There’s such a vibrant community downtown that I had no idea even existed. It’s just phenomenal.”
If you’re not a Star Wars fan - don’t worry. There’s plenty more to dive into, including his newest automotive-inspired series.
It’s a pop culture fan’s paradise - exactly the vibe Walks has wanted to create since that deposit envelope.
“There’s this whole artistic attitude that, if people like it, it’s not good," Walks lamented. "I think there’s good evidence that kind of thing is just as important as the other stuff. The pop culture that we love might have relatively simple themes, but they’re important themes. The reason that these shows and movies are so popular is that that resonates with people, and I just love that.”
Everybody can get behind Live Long and Prosper.
A Gallery Far Far Away is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. through July 17.