Friday Dispatch: 22/04
Barbara Walker: Vanishing Point
18 March – 23 April 2022 (exhibition ends tomorrow at 2pm)
Barbara Walker is a figurative artist whose monochrome images are often based on archival material. The fragile and sometimes ephemeral nature of the media she uses for her small works on paper and wall drawings – chalk, embossing or tracing paper – is as a vehicle for highlighting the erasure of Black and other underrepresented histories.
Growing up in Birmingham to Jamaican parents, her experiences have directly shaped a practice concerned with issues of class, power, gender, race, representation and belonging. Walker, who is undertaking a residency at the British School in Rome this spring, describes that she has always been ‘drawn to the figure not necessarily, or not only, because of its portraiture aspects but more so because of its body politics.’
Vanishing Point, Walker’s major exhibition of new work at Cristea Roberts Gallery is the culmination of a five-year research project, addressing the under-representation of Black figures in Western art history.
The exhibition features 20 works that reinterpret classical Western paintings, housed in major public museums, including the National Gallery, London, or the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Walker selected paintings from the Renaissance Period to the Dutch Golden Age, that mostly depict Black subjects in the role of slaves, servants, or attendants.
The White figures in Walker’s pictures, that are presented in Cristea Roberts’ upper gallery space, are embossed out, leaving a blank sheet of white paper onto which the artist drew the Black figures in graphite – sometimes details are carried out in red colour. Vanishing Point 22 (Mijtens) (2022), for example shows a White woman embossed on satin paper. Only a faint outline of her is remaining and the young Black male servant, who is carefully placing a bracelet around the invisible figure’s wrist, immediately takes centre stage.
For the four-part drawing series Marking the Moment Walker has used imagery sourced from prints in the collections of the British Museum and the Rijksmuseum. For each work the artist drew the entire scene. After that she covered most of the image with mylar paper to obscure the picture. In the split of a second our attention shifts to the Black figure. For example, in Marking the Moment I (2022) a Black servant appears from behind a White woman. He is drawn in graphite and is depicted in a circle that is cut out of the mylar paper. This technique of obscuring the White woman but highlighting the Black man creates the illusion of a round camera lens focusing on him, almost as if zooming the Black figure in.
A large-scale wall drawing featuring Black protagonists taken from classical paintings complement the framed drawings in the exhibition. It took the artist a week to complete. At the end of the exhibition, the drawing will be washed from the gallery wall, referencing the erasing from history of certain underrepresented communities.
Walker’s artistic investigations into classical Western Paintings that often shape our public museum collections and national heritage, confronts issues of race and representation in art from the Old Masters to the present day. By inverting the anonymising act of erasure Walker’s skilful drawings reclaim an equal and independent position of the marginalised ‘Other’.
Walker’s poignant and affecting portraits invite us to contemplate who is visible and who is invisible in Western art history and by placing a Black figure at the centre of each work, Vanishing Point is offering an alternative view onto the dominant European artistic cannon.
The way Walker sheds new light on Old Master pieces and how she draws attention to the figures that are usually overlooked is both innovative and inspiring. If you don’t have plans this Saturday, I strongly recommend that you go see Barbara Walker’s exquisite and powerful drawings before Vanishing Point will close its doors tomorrow (April 23) at 2 pm.
Christine Takengny, Senior Curator
Barbara Walker; Vanishing Point, 2022, wall drawing in charcoal and pastel.
Courtesy Barbara Walker and Cristea Roberts Gallery, London. Photo: Sam Roberts
Cristea Roberts Gallery, 43 Pall Mall, St. James’s, London SW1Y 5JG
Opening Times: Tuesday – Friday 11am – 5.30pm Saturday 11am – 2pm
Exhibition Open until TOMORROW