Barbara Walker: Vanishing Point confronts issues of race and representation in art from the Old Masters to the present day.
Walker is interested in issues of class and power, gender, race, representation, and the politics of how we look at others. She makes portraits in a range of media and formats – from small embossed works on paper to paintings on canvas and large-scale charcoal wall drawings – in order to explore social and political issues.
For Barbara Walker: Vanishing Point the artist has selected two paintings from the collection of the National Gallery, London, that are displayed alongside her own drawings in order to highlight cultural differences in historic and contemporary societies. The Banquet of Cleopatra by Tiepolo and A Homage to Velázquez by Giordano both feature Black figures.
Walker’s work depicts subjects who are often cast as minorities, inviting the viewer to look beyond the anonymising act of categorising or classifying citizens. Her pictures make visible the lives of others and address the allusions associated with the labels conferred upon people by society. By exhibiting the National Gallery loans with her own drawings of Black subjects, Walker is showing these historic works in a fresh context, drawing attention to the figures that are usually overlooked.
When talking about her practice, Walker says, “In visual art the figure and the human presence is very important to me. Art can sometimes seem abstract, and hard for some audiences to connect with. It gives me something instantly recognisable with which to connect, especially if it is a human form (and representationally). I think as humans we are always searching for ourselves in some way – the similarities and the differences – trying to gain insight into ourselves and others.”
The exhibition is the outcome of the Evelyn Williams Drawing Bursary awarded to Walker in association with Jerwood Drawing Prize 2017. Loans from the National Gallery has have been made possible thanks to a grant from the Weston Loan Programme with Art Fund, an initiative created by the Garfield Weston Foundation and Art Fund. The initiative is specifically designed to directly fund and empower regional and smaller local authority museums to borrow major works or collections of art from the UK’s national museums and galleries. The fund enables wider access to works from the national collections for audiences across the UK, strengthening the skills of museum professionals and distributing resources.
Jerwood Gallery Director Liz Gilmore says, “This is a trailblazing exhibition for Jerwood Gallery. It is rare for a regional gallery to borrow such important historical works from a national institution and we have never had an artwork older than the late 1800s in the gallery. Barbara Walker is a fascinating artist who will bring to Jerwood Gallery a previously under-represented voice.”
Philippa Charles, Garfield Weston Foundation Director, said “We have been blown away by the ambition and creativity of museums and galleries across the UK taking part in the Weston Loan Programme with Art Fund, and Jerwood Gallery’s idea really stood out. Working with a contemporary artist to show masterpieces from The National Gallery in a new light is both innovative and inspiring, and we encourage everyone from Hastings and beyond to see this exhibition.”
David Alston of the Evelyn Williams Trust said “The Evelyn Williams Trust has been rewarded to see in Barbara Walker a very fitting first recipient of its Drawing Award. It has allowed Barbara a sustained period of work on a whole new suite of drawings, stimulated by her engagement with paintings in the National Gallery. We think they are exquisite and very powerful.”
Image image: Barbara Walker, Vanishing Point 4 (Solimena), 2018 © the artist