Artist Talk: Barbara Walker

Barbara Walker presented in our final artist talk of the year with her fluid work, responding to the world around her. This technique gives her a unique way into the painting and drawing that looks at the social and political.

One of the first works that was shown looked at disabled bomb experts and those who have fought in wars. Walker attempts to look at the ‘true’ perspective, with prompts from conversations, media and daily life. For this, the prompt came from a conversation that asked whether black soldiers can fight on behalf of Britain in places such as Afghanistan and Iraq.

Walker’s collection of works and style looks at the chronology of the past 100 years of war. She doesn’t really like wars, but this was the premise to have a conversation through the artwork. She also finds that she has one foot in history and the other in a contemporary practice. Walker is regarded as a research-based artist (80% research, 20% making), to try and unpick, learn and have a foundation to build and make from.

Not only does Walker look at the past, but she also takes a look at contemporary soldiers. This is a difficult subject and it is touch-and-go when trying to have a conversation about this. Because it is a difficult conversation to have by many, she decided to put that idea aside and look more at the historical aspect, especially of her own, Caribbean, history. Immediately there was a need to know where these people came from, bringing images to the surface and using them, scavenging them from archives. Walkers’ work plays and disrupts the photographs and images that she finds in these archives. She identifies the photograph, buys the file, enlarges through certain formats and then works from these.

Charcoal is one of the preferred mediums for Walker, a medium that she is comfortable with, thus she is able to make a statement and a metaphor because of her interest in the hierarchy of constructs (those she draws are lower in the hierarchy, and charcoal is often considered ‘behind’ painting). Her works look at the individuals claiming the space again, giving rebirth and celebration, but also critically looking at images and re-framing them. You always have to disrupt to make a new, or continue an old commentary.

In some pieces, Walker drew with charcoal directly on the wall, which she has to wash away. In other pieces, she has taken an eraser or white chalk to an area of the piece. Both methods are somewhat aggressive, and make an impactful statement. If things become too familiar, she moves on, to bring challenges to her work and move forward.

Walker also looks at the female contribution as a challenge to her own work and uses the same processes as before. In one image, she may emboss one woman and drew the other two. In others, she will cut out an image which is severe, but also subtle, placing the drawing, or part of the photograph in a different place. These different techniques come together to create powerful pieces of work. A last medium that Walker has demonstrated her skills in is installation, commenting that wars should not be drawn on pieces of paper, but also on the walls in the pavilion where many of these soldiers were stationed. It brings some humanity back to such an ugly word. Walker makes a stand that these people were spoken about but not commemorated, bringing their lives to the surface in a provocative manner – ‘hitting the audience with a sledge hammer’.

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