Kunstmuseum Den Haag opens an exhibition of paintings by Caroline Walker

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Kunstmuseum Den Haag opens an exhibition of paintings by Caroline Walker
Caroline Walker, Elaine and Elaine, 2020, oil on linen, 175 x 240 cm. Courtesy of the artist and GRIMM Amsterdam | New York. Photo: Peter Mallet Photography.

THE HAGUE.- Caroline Walker records the daily lives of women around her on large canvases and small panels, zooming in on fleeting moments that are neither entirely private nor public, with a refined sense of light and colour. Her subjects range from her own young daughter in the living room at home to a maid in an anonymous hotel suite, portrayed in filmic scenes that we observe through windows, passageways or in reflections. In Windows at KM21, Walker’s first solo museum show, she explores themes like privacy and voyeurism from an engaged perspective.

Snapshots, often taken in secret, provide the basis for Walker’s oil paintings. Although her paintings suggest all kinds of scenarios, they are never fully revealed. We are left to guess as to what happens before and after the carefully captured moment, what the atmosphere is like, and what the body language of a character is telling us. The scenes are remote in some sense, but for Walker they are sometimes extremely personal. As well as her daughter, she has also painted several portraits featuring her mother.

One leitmotif in the exhibition is, appropriately enough, the window – a classic motif in art, which also serves as a metaphor: the painting as a window on the world or a window as a reflection of reality. Walker often literally depicts the window and lets her viewer peep through it, making the act of looking itself, the framed gaze, the subject of the work. She thus invites us to stop and consider how we look at others, and to take a closer look at ourselves.

Female labour force

The exhibition brings together more than twenty paintings made since 2016, including four specially created new works and a recent acquisition by Kunstmuseum Den Haag being shown for the first time. Measuring (2019) depicts a tailor absorbed in her work at a workshop on Savile Row, a street in London that has traditionally been a centre for tailoring since the eighteenth century. Although many of them are still run by men, more and more women are moving into highly skilled tailoring positions, or opening their own businesses. The painting is part of a larger series on the workshops in London, many of which are housed in basements.

Working women, particularly in the services sector, are an important subject for Walker. In this way, she gives a face to the ‘female labour force’, which is often taken for granted or even intentionally kept out of sight. While her images were initially highly staged, since 2016 she has adopted a more documentary style. In London, where she lives, she has visited women in a range of settings, including a hostess at a restaurant and a refugee in her newly allocated home, to paint their portraits after having personal contact with them.

Contemporary painting tradition

Caroline Walker is one of a series of contemporary artists, including Maaike Schoorel, Daniel Richter, Kati Heck and Lisa Brice, whose work refers to the history of painting. KM21 regularly showcases the work of this internationally oriented generation who are continuing the tradition of painting in a distinctly contemporary style.

Caroline Walker (b. 1982, Scotland) lives and works in London. She studied at the Glasgow School of Art and the Royal College of Art in London. Her work features in various public collections, including those of Kunstmuseum Den Haag, National Museum Wales, The UK Government Art Collection, Kistefos Museum and Museum Voorlinden.

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