Titled Home [2017/18] the series of paintings by Caroline Walker offers a less familiar portrayal of the continuing refugee and migrant crisis. Walker’s sensuous handling of paint brings to life the institutional and the commonplace. The warmth with which Walker depicts the women, contrasts with and foregrounds the potential isolation and latent anxiety of their situations. Their lives are safer but they are in exile from their families and friends and from the homes they have had to leave behind.
The scene is familiar but rarely seen in a painting. A black woman stands by the sink in a bathroom. Dressed, but wearing slippers, she is perhaps engaged in cleaning. The time noted in the painting’s title Joy, 11am, Hackney makes sense of the morning light flooding in, catching the shiny floor tiles and Joy’s cheek and forehead. The viewer’s eyes are drawn to areas and touches of red and blue, especially a bright blue mark above the bath. Like a 17th-century Dutch painter, Caroline Walker observes and preserves a moment in time through paint. Yet this small work is more a sketch, an impression. The artist’s visible, sometimes flickering, brush marks capture the essentials of the room as the eye does, recalling shapes and colors and most of all the feeling of a human presence.
Charity Women for Refugee Women
Joy is one of five women who Walker met and photographed in London in the summer of 2017, introduced by the charity Women for Refugee Women. The paintings, drawing on the photographs, were made over a period of months in Walker’s studio. While images of women in different environments unites all of Walker’s practice, the new series represented a significant shift. Walker has written:
“The collaboration with Women for Refugee Women has been transformative to my practice, first and foremost because it’s led me to engage with the women I’m painting on a personal and specific level, to make paintings which take their individual lives as a starting point.I had neither met most of the women nor seen their accommodation before the visits, so the starting point for my response was coming entirely from the circumstances of these women’s lives rather than anything dictated in advance by me.”