Caroline Walker

Bathroom, Room 608, 2018

Oil on Wood

45 × 36 cm


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Artwork
Description

Caroline Walker has been fascinated by female domestic portraiture since childhood. Her entire career could be viewed as an exploration of this subject and an attempt to wrest it from the dusty male-dominated canon to thrust it into the light of women’s contemporary experiences.

Bathroom, Room 608 is part of a group which develops Walker’s series Service. Rather than strolling through the city, peering through windows and photographing the working women she saw behind them, for these paintings Walker shadowed hotel staff as they went about their jobs. As such, even before she begins to paint, the artist sets up an interesting viewing relationship with her subjects.

The subject of Bathroom is being watched performing a task that usually goes on behind the scenes. Walker’s viewpoint is voyeuristic, leaving in a portion of the door as if we are just peeping in to catch the woman from behind. However, the female staff consented to be looked at; they are aware of the artist’s gaze but go on regardless. This ambiguity speaks to the complex position these women hold in the city: they are simultaneously seen and unseen.

As women, they are deeply visible: open to cat-calling on the street, harassment at their place of work, a need to keep up their appearance and awareness of how they fall short of society’s standards of female beauty. Yet as workers, they are hidden. Their jobs appear to guests as if done by magic, their toil concealed behind the perfect veneer of the luxury hotel. One cannot also fail to think of the historic and on-going marginalisation of women’s issues in the workplace; despite the sleek aesthetic, Walker’s approach to painting is deeply political.

The subject of Bathroom is mirrored. Split in two, the viewer gets only a partial picture of her from each angle, reflecting her ambivalent position between visible and invisible.

About
the artist

Caroline Walker (b. 1982, Dunfermline, Scotland) studied at Glasgow School of Art and at the Royal College of Art. Known for her paintings of women in interiors, Walker has exhibited nationally and internationally, most recently at SpaceK in Seoul and Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge. For this latter exhibition, the artist was commissioned by Kettle’s Yard to create a series in response to the refugee crisis, resulting in paintings of five different women exploring how migration status impacted their relationship to their new environment.

Walker’s practice explores the complexities of women’s position in society through depictions of the spaces of femininity. In representing her subjects as they inhabit different interiors, she captures contemporary experiences of womanhood, exposing the gap between lived reality and the archetypes women often come to embody. Walker plays with this ambiguity, luring the viewer into a fictionalised world with her vivid and enticing paintings, whose surfaces offer just enough information to affirm the reality of her vision, whilst leaving enough to the viewer’s imagination.

In her 2016 series Downtown LA and Palm Springs, Walker cast professional models into glamorous backdrops; photographing them and then reinterpreting these images on canvas. Her paintings were meticulously staged, giving an intensely cinematic feel; even in her more recent series (such as Home, 2017 and Service, 2017-18) which deal with ‘real’ figures as opposed to actors such feeling is preserved. Walker’s approach is often very voyeuristic: peering through blinds or around doors to catch her subjects absorbed in a task or themselves. This is a deliberate device, developed by Walker under the influence of directors like Alfred Hitchcock, David Lynch and Paolo Sorrentino, whose films have inspired the artist not only in terms of the visual devices of framing images but also the way in which narrative is constructed through the relationship of subject and viewer, and the creation of an overarching and compelling atmosphere.

Her works also engage with the history of representations of women in paint as well as film. Western art history has largely cast the male gaze as portrayer of the female figure. Walker revisits this long tradition adopting a female perspective, using this voyeurism against itself to challenge the position of the viewer, since artist and model share the same gender. In this way, Walker can empathise with her models, sharing with them the same realm of subjectivity. As the artist states : “I paint women because in some ways I am always painting myself, and my own experiences or anxieties, but from a distanced objective position which can hopefully also reflect how we all encounter the world.”


Walker’s practice explores the complexities of women’s position in society through depictions of the spaces of femininity. In representing her subjects as they inhabit different interiors, she captures contemporary experiences of womanhood, exposing the gap between lived reality and the archetypes women often come to embody.


Caroline Walker
on Artuner

Part of the
exhibition

November 1st, 2018 until
January 6th, 2019
Curated by ARTUNER