News / Caroline Walker - Part 3 - Painting Women and the home

Caroline Walker - Part 3 - Painting Women and the home

As I mentioned, I had started painting figures in domestic interiors at the end of my BA in 2004. These were mainly women, though not exclusively. Initially I was drawn to painting women because I had always loved this since I was a little girl, though I wasn't sure why. Also, in these early paintings it was my friends, mostly female, that were the models. It wasn't until my MA that I focused on painting just women and it was at this point that I became interested in the politics of the imagery I was using, and it made sense for me as a female painter to be addressing the representation of women.

I'm interested in the performance of femininity and how a gendered gaze might play out in my paintings. My female subjects inhabit different archetypes both in the home, such as the housewife, cleaner, mistress, or nanny or lady of the house, as well as wider female archetypes such as the witch, crone, seductress, femme fatale, mother, daughter and many others. These are confused in my characters though, either through their incongruous actions or often their dress. For example, a woman may be seen cleaning a kitchen floor, but topless and wearing gold lamé trousers. Or as in 'Illuminations' where the nude girl standing on the table changing the light bulb is cast in a warm light like a nymph from a rococo painting. The performance of femininity becomes one of absurdity.

I also want the audience to be constantly changing position, taking on different archetypes of the viewer: in one painting they are voyeurs, while in another they might be complicit somehow in the unfolding narrative. I'm interested in the mechanisms at work in how we relate to particular subjects that have evolved through a history of image-making.

Until 2011 I always painted single figures, focusing on a voyeuristic relationship between the viewer and the subject but I felt that this was too limiting in the long term so I started introducing more figures. This shifted the focus away from a simple relationship of voyeurism or projection to a more complex relationship of power and hierarchy being played out between these different characters.

The themes of veiling, concealment and surveillance are recurrent in my practice. Characters in the paintings watch each other, await an unseen presence, or literally control each other's sight, while in the unpopulated scenes, the viewer's position as voyeur is reversed, themselves becoming the subject of some unseen gaze. I've tried to avoid the narrative suggestion becoming too leading or prescriptive. Hopefully what the viewer sees is something that is left in limbo, between a painted reality and the subject matter, which is often another fabrication