Caroline Walker @ Ingleby Gallery, Edinburgh
Caroline Walker's neat compositions offer intimate insight, while allowing for their central character to remain enigmatic
Caroline Walker’s exhibition at Ingleby Gallery, Janet, focuses on her mother. These are simple oil paintings, not stylistically groundbreaking, and yet their subject is captivating. The exhibition of just fifteen paintings works well as a series in which we glimpse snapshots of a never-ending domestic labour. Janet – a silver-haired, trainer-clad, jumper-touting woman – potters around from canvas to canvas vacuuming, watering the garden, dusting, washing up, and performing a very relatable form of womanhood.
In Making Fishcakes, Late Afternoon, December we look from the dark outside inward at Janet under a golden light at work by the sink, a cluster of fish slices – her pot of tools – in front of her. In Tucking In, Late Evening, March we see Janet in the conservatory pottering around and preparing her plants for the cold night ahead. In Planting Decisions, Early Afternoon, May her gloved hands show her deep in thought while looking down at trays of seedlings.
These are neat compositions, with a quality of light akin to Dutch genre paintings. The success of Walker’s work is in her ability to find this tender beauty in what could all too easily be a two-dimensional portrayal of years of oppression under patriarchy. Whilst there is no doubt that Janet is a woman produced by these circumstances, the paintings also probe Janet’s psychological interior, asking us to see her as an active female subject, not merely a passive submitter to gender stereotypes. Janet is a caretaker, caught in the act of taking care. She moves from room to room through the house, which she nevertheless maintains, perhaps out of love, or pride, or just habit.