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PAUSE: Selected drawings by Barbara Walker

12  June – 13 July 2014 Curated by C&C Gallery, London

Reviewed by Dr. Christine Checinska


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Barbara Walker, Pause, exhibition installation view, 2014, C&C Gallery. Photo. Liz Evans

Artist Barbara Walker makes drawings of people. She makes drawings of people using charcoal and a soft pencil. She makes drawings of men; huge, larger than life, floor to ceiling drawings rendered directly onto the wall. Each fold, crease, line and blemish of her sitters’ bodies and the clothes that enfold them are sensitively transcribed in the smallest of detail. But we never see her sitters’ faces. And each wall is wiped clean at the end of every show.

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Barbara Walker, Show and Tell : Subject G and Subject H, 2008 Charcoal on paper. Photo. Liz Evans

Pause presents selected portraits from Show and Tell, the Dichotomy of Kenny, the Dichotomy of Sean and one new wall piece. It is impossible to view Walker’s work without first being astonished by the sheer scale and by the craftsmanship, by the quality of lines seemingly etched into the wall, or the paper, or the canvas, creating a three-dimensional, almost sculptural effect. It comes as no surprise that she sites Giacometti and Rodin as amongst her influences. Yet these soft charcoal drawings are deeply political. In Walker’s hand the methodical making of lines on a wall and the erasing of them is a form of quiet activism.

The untitled C&C wall piece – a portrait of Izzy, a dancer – heralds a turning point in Walker’s work. It is as though Walker’s voice is manifest with an unmistakeable boldness in the tension between the palm of Izzy’s outstretched hand and the silent snarling mouth of his printed t-shirt. The viewer is allowed a glimpse of the artist’s inner thoughts. Izzy’s hand is outstretched with the palm face up, but his fingers are not flexed in a manner one might expect if being signalled to ‘stop’. Instead his hand reaches out in an act of near supplication, yet read against the dog’s glistening teeth the viewer is forced to pause, to do a double take, to listen to what Walker is saying. Izzy’s gesture is not about pleading to be heard. It is about demanding to be heard. This metaphorical drawing in the sand shouts ‘enough’!

Walker elegantly explores issues around identity, voice, personhood, power and visibility through her practice. She understands the importance of clothes and cloth; the way in which each has the potential to bind and separate us to and from one another; the way in which clothes and cloth have the potential to speak and to signify, to reference Henry Louis Gates Jn. The aesthetic and the political gloriously meet in her soft pencil portraits.

Characteristically, since process is of equal importance as the finished piece, Walker will be removing the portrait of Izzy at the close of the C&C show. See more drawings on Barbara Walker’s website

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Barbara Walker, Untitled, 2014, wall drawing. Photo. Liz Evans