Vanishing Point features new works which combine detailed graphite drawing and blind embossing to reinterpret classical paintings. Barbara Walker places a Black figure at the centre of each work, offering an alternative and balanced depiction of the European artistic cannon. These works, the culmination of a five-year project, will be exhibited for the first time alongside a new large-scale wall drawing.
Walker, who often spends several years on projects, undertaking research that includes working with public archives, began her Vanishing Point series in 2017 following the receipt of the Evelyn Williams drawing award at the Jerwood Drawing Prize, which enabled her to research, develop and exhibit the beginnings of the series at the Jerwood Gallery in Hastings (now known as Hastings Contemporary). All the works are variations on Old Master or classical Western paintings that are housed in major public museums, including the National Gallery, London and the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. Walker selects paintings by artists from the Renaissance period through to the Dutch Golden Age, such as Paolo Veronese, Daniël Mijtens, Johann Liss, Hendrik Heerschop, Daniel Vertangen, and Pierre Mignard.
She focuses on scenes with Black subjects, who are often depicted in the role of slaves, servants or attendants. The white figures in the picture are embossed out, leaving a blank sheet of white paper onto which Walker draws the Black figures in graphite. In some drawings other parts of the image, such as the landscape or skies, are also reconstructed through drawing and the occasional touches of colour. The final pieces subtly draw attention to the Black figure, demonstrating artistic and historical erasure and inviting contemplation on how history is made and unmade.
Walker has used imagery sourced from prints in the collections of the British Museum and Rijksmuseum to make four small drawings, entitled Marking the Moment. For each work she draws the complete scene, then covers the majority of it with mylar, obscuring the picture and leaving only the Black figure revealed. A large-scale wall drawing featuring sections taken from classical paintings will complement the framed drawings on display. Walker is well-known for these large-scale installations, as seen recently at Turner Contemporary, England (2019-21), Lahore Biennale, Pakistan (2020) and the Diaspora Pavilion, Venice Biennale, Italy (2017).
Walker’s experience of growing up in a Jamaican family in Birmingham, UK, has directly shaped her practice. Informed by the social, political and cultural realities that affect her life and the lives of the diverse immigrant communities around her, she works in a range of media and formats to make figurative works, highlighting people who are often cast as minorities. Recognising both past and current issues and prejudices faced by Black communities, Vanishing Point links historical and contemporary questions concerning race, class and power.
If you would like to receive a preview of all works in the show, please contact the gallery via [email protected].
The exhibition is closed for Easter from 15 - 18 April 2022.
Top image: Detail from Vanishing Point 24 (Mignard), 2021.
Film | Barbara Walker: Vanishing Point
In the Press: Black figures emerge from the footnotes of classical art
About the Artist
About the Artist
Barbara Walker was born in Birmingham, England, in 1964. She studied at the University of Central England, Birmingham, and completed post-graduate studies at Wolverhampton University. Walker was the 2020 Bridget Riley Fellow at the British School at Rome. In 2019 she was awarded an MBE in the New Year Honours for services to British Art and in 2017 she exhibited at the 57th Venice Biennale as part of the Diaspora Pavilion. Walker’s recent solo exhibitions include Turner Cotemporary, Margate (2019), Jerwood Gallery, Hastings (2018), and Midlands Arts Centre, Birmingham (2016).
Image: Barbara Walker at Turner Contemporary. Photo by Sheradon Dublin.