What is most surprising about these pictures is that they are not in fact portraits but wholly imaginative creations - the creatures who inhabit the artist's mind, or the fruits of observation. "I look at people," she says, "and wonder what they might have looked like as a child... it's the look." Often, they might be hybrids - made up of a number of the artist's friends, not necessarily children. Always, they are compelling, staring out from the canvas in the isolation of growing up, or talking among themselves in groups of two or three - experimenting with the bitter-sweet beginnings of human relationships.
The truth, though, is that, while we necessarily contrive to read into their minds adult emotions and responses, in the stark reality of Gardiner's paintings we must face up to exactly what these children are. They are no more than ourselves, living through an experience which, no matter how hard we try, we can never recapture.
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