Kettle's Yard to launch new exhibition reflecting diversity of British art

Rooted in the mundane details of the here and now, Caroline Walker’s paintings could hardly be more different and yet she too has faith in the strength of artists’ actions.

Florence Hallett
Thursday 08 February 2018 17:47
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Caroline Walker, Tarh, 11.30am, Southall, 2017
Caroline Walker, Tarh, 11.30am, Southall, 2017

Several of Caroline Walker’s new paintings are big enough to be seriously unwieldy in her small north London studio, their scale lending dignity and gravitas to their unassuming subjects, the refugee women rebuilding their lives in the capital.

As an artist unaccustomed to overtly political subjects, tackling the refugee crisis has been a difficult and challenging experience, and she explains: “I’m not comfortable about being in a position where it might seem like I’m telling the viewer what to think, but I hope the paintings I’ve made are more subtle than that.”

Joy, 11.30am, Hackney, 2017

Commissioned for Actions, an exhibition to mark the reopening of Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge, the paintings respond to a series of letters from 1944 between the sculptor Naum Gabo and the art critic Herbert Read.

Gabo’s belief in the transformative powers of art was shared by his friend, the collector Jim Ede, whose house, Kettle’s Yard, with its unique integration of art and everyday objects, embodies his commitment to art as central to life.

In the shadow of war, Gabo wrote memorably of the potential for artists to shape our relationships with the world through their actions.

Art’s purpose, he wrote, is, “to remind us that the image of the world can be different”, and his still startlingly modern constructions of perspex and nylon transcend the everyday to achieve a timeless, utopian vision.

Noor, 4pm, Leyton, 2017 

Rooted in the mundane details of the here and now, Walker’s paintings could hardly be more different and yet Walker too has faith in the strength of artists’ actions.

For her, “the job of an artist is to reflect what’s happening in the world back at an audience in a way that might make them think differently about it.” From performance, to the gestural physicality of their practice, to political activism, the 38 artists featured in Actions achieve this in distinct ways.

Perhaps due to the extreme abstraction of his work, Gabo felt pressure to justify his existence as an artist, asking, “What do my works contribute to our society in general, and to our time in particular?”

Walker is less earnest in her self-examination, but concedes: “It’s important to be relevant: all the paintings I like most by other artists say something about the time in which they were made.

Nineteenth-century French artists are my favourite – Degas, Manet – it’s that feeling of a snapshot of a particular society at a particular time. I’m interested in art that engages a wider audience than a middle class, art-educated one. What is it doing in the world otherwise?”

A painting by Caroline Walker from her series Home will feature in Actions. The image of the world can be different, at Kettle’s Yard 10 February – 2 April 2018.

Actions 2, featuring a solo presentation of Walker’s paintings, alongside John Akomfrah’s Auto Da Fé ,will run from 10 April- 6 May 2018.

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