Caroline Walker

Floors, Room 324, 2018

Oil on Linen

166 × 216 cm


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Artwork
Description

Caroline Walker’s paintings revisit and subvert the traditional canon of domestic portraiture. Challenging the ageless male gaze upon female subjects, the Scottish painter reproduces women in specific interiors, often their home or place of work.

Housewife, cleaner, beautician; Walker addresses each one and dignifies them with a humane consideration of their social position.

Open doors often tickle voyeuristic instincts. In Floors, Room 324 Walker’s brushstrokes lure the curious by capturing a sneaky view into a hotel room. The empty wardrobe, recently-dusted table, bed with its white sheets, and a cityscape view that could be anywhere in the world: a realistic enough scene, yet it unnervingly recalls an imaginary space.

In the middle of all this, a female figure with her back to the viewer is energetically sweeping the floor: a cleaner in her black uniform and jumbled bun. The woman is entirely focused on what she is doing, and as happens in the cinema, the subject is totally unaware of the viewer behind them. In this way Walker reveals the invisible mechanisms at the heart of the hotel; the cleaning staff who silently and uninterruptedly tend to it.  

The intrusive viewer’s gaze allows Walker to explore contemporary issues of femininity and the relationship between viewer and subject. The viewer is lured by their curiosity to look in at these enigmatic scenes, creating an opportunity for the artist to then present them with the reality of the subject depicted: on their life and conditions. By subverting the expectation and the traditional reasons behind the genre of portraiture, Walker addresses issues and draws attention to forgotten female subjects and their daily lives: like in this instance where the humble performances of a hotel’s cleaner become object of voyeuristic instincts and attention.

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