Caroline Walker - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in association with Yongle Hong Kong Thursday, December 1, 2022 | Phillips

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  • Serene yet seductive, The Masquerade unfolds before its audience with a sultry cinematic flare that underpins Caroline Walker’s unique visual language. Painted in 2012 and exhibited in the artist’s first public solo exhibition in London In Every Dream Home, the present work is a potent example from a series that explored the intersections between role-playing, gender conformity, domesticity, and class.



    The Soul of an Interior 


    There is a solemn dreamlike quality to the In Every Dream Home paintings, each depicting various female protagonists within luxurious domestic settings. However, each also begs closer inspection as surface perfection seems to cloak the truth, as if each scene is rehearsed and directed. Fittingly, Caroline Walker’s deliberate working method was purely directorial: seeking out real, unique locations, and along with a cast of models with costumes and props, the artist staged photoshoots from which she drew inspiration when she painted the final pieces. According to the artist, ‘since representational painting is already such a space of construction and illusion, the process itself just seems to compound the fiction.’ i


    “I’m interested in the relationship between the real and the imaginary particularly with the performative aspect of the work. At the beginning of a photoshoot the women are always very aware of themselves being looked at; they watch each other and are keen to control how I look at them…The real interaction, which is what I hope to catch, only really starts when they stop being aware of my presence.”
    — Caroline Walker


    Drawing from the 1973 Roxy Music song, In Every Dream Home a Heartache—which inspired the title of Caroline Walker’s 2013 exhibition—The Masquerade is a perfect summary of its lyrics. The song’s narrator describes his hyper materialistic world with ‘penthouse perfection’ in tow, in which he installs his ‘disposable darling’, a mail-order inflatable sex doll: the tale of a crude and distorted doll house of sorts thus comes to life. The artist explains: ‘Like a dream-home lifestyle, the doll itself embodies fantasy and artifice. This struck a chord with me in the way I populate my paintings with alienated, nameless women, often in states of undress, available for our projected fantasies, sexual or otherwise.’ ii



    Roxy Music’s In Every Dream Home a Heartache, 1973



    Indeed, The Masquerade aptly captures the confluence of such topics. We peek into a scene set behind bright red framed windows: a woman in a flowing emerald gown looks down at a white masquerade mask laid out on a table, and what appear to be a crown and a fan are discarded around her. We are unsure whether she is undressing from, or about to attend, some sort of masked ball; or which prop she will finally choose. The overall effect is voyeuristic, and a certain eroticism pervades the painting—the metaphor of our doll encased behind glass is therefore apt and charged with meaning.



    Through a Domestic Lens 


    The succinctness of the symbology used in Walker’s work can be attributed to the artist’s wide range of filmic influences, including that of David Lynch and Alfred Hitchcock: ‘I think it’s that space that both Hitchcock and Lynch achieve between the banal or familiar and the threatening. They both use visual signifiers very effectively as well – recurring colour motifs in the character’s clothing or environment for example which re-enforce an overarching atmosphere seem very painterly, and is definitely a strategy I use when working in series.’ iii



    David Lynch's Rabbits, 2002



    Because Walker champions the two filmmakers’ use of strong motifs and symbols, it is unsurprising she turned to other cultural iconography such as the neopagan archetype of the Triple Goddess when creating the present series: ‘My female subjects inhabit different archetypes both in the home, such as the housewife, cleaner, house sitter or intruder and wider female archetypes such as the witch, femme fatale, mother, and many others. With a number of the paintings in this exhibition [In Every Dream Home] I was exploring the pagan idea of the triple goddess: Maiden, Mother, Crone which are these 3 stages of woman.’ ivThus the mask, the crown, and the fan depicted within The Masquerade may also similarly evoke deeper connotations of a woman’s purpose and life-cycle, especially when set against the ordinary backdrop of the home. The tripartite of symbols is rich with meaning: the performative aspect of assuming different gender roles (the mask), female empowerment (the crown), or even vanity and beauty (the fan)—just one allegorical interpretation amongst many for The Masquerade.



    Eric Fischl, Krefeld Project: Bathroom Scene 2, 2003
    © 2022 Eric Fischl / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


    Caroline Walker’s intimate portrayals of the prosaic underbelly of suburban life are not dissimilar to the art of Eric Fischl, whom the artist also names as another influence. Of significance perhaps is Fischl’s 2002 project entitled The Krefeld Project, during which photo sessions spanning three days took place in a temporarily furnished home in Germany, ‘inhabited’ by two actors. Various scenes were captured within the artificial domestic setting, culminating in a series of paintings rendering this convergence of performance and real life. This investigation of mundanity is a fascination that both artists share, and as Walker explains, ‘[t]here’s something about the banality and boredom of domesticity mixed with the voyeurism and eroticism in all of these works which intrigues me.’ v



    The Female Gaze 

    “My work definitely engages with that history of painting women, which has largely cast the male artist as the portrayer of the female realm. I suppose I’m revisiting that, but through a female gaze. And I’m interested in whether the knowledge that something has been painted by a woman might change the way you feel about what you are looking at, or challenge your assumptions about a relationship between artist and model.”
    — Caroline Walker

    The utter dissection and scrutiny of the everyday are key to Caroline Walker. One detects links to sources as diverse as Edward Hopper and David Hockney (both of whom turned to quotidian life for artistic stimulus), to the pioneering  19th Century Intimisme artists Édouard Vuillard and Pierre Bonnard, whose devoted depictions of banal but personal domestic scenes paved the way to a new artistic movement. Of particular note however is Walker’s commitment to capturing such scenes as seen through a female lens—the same for which cannot be said about her male predecessors. In her unyielding preference for depicting women, Walker challenges our societal perceptions for the female figures she renders, forcing us to fill in the gaps within the narratives she constructs. Her paintings are thus mirrors that reveal more about ourselves than perhaps the images into which we peer.



    Left: Édouard Vuillard, Mme Vuillard Sewing by the Window, rue Truffaut, circa 1889
    Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
    Image: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Robert Lehman Collection, 1975

    Right: Edward Hopper, New York Office, 1962
    Collection of the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts
    Image: Bridgeman Images, Artwork: © 2022 Heirs of Josephine Hopper / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


    Collector’s Digest 


    The below is an excerpt from Emily Spicer’s interview with the artist for studio international in 2017.


    Emily Spicer: Tell me about your process? I’ve read that you have a particular way of working.


    Caroline Walker: It’s quite an elaborate process that starts with finding a location for a photoshoot. When I have a location, I look for models, props and clothing. I start to build a story in my head and then I spend a day on location, photographing the models. I almost try to storyboard that, like doing a primitive version of a film shoot, I suppose, although I usually go off track quite quickly and start ad-libbing. I might get hundreds of photographs. Then I’ll work with them back at the studio and start making lots of drawings and oil sketches. So I start putting together potential big paintings, thinking about how they might join up narratively.


    ES: Why do you so often set your paintings in modernist interiors?


    CW: I think that started with my desire to bring my subject matter into a more contemporary context because, up until about 2010, it seemed that I was always painting interiors of traditionally decorated Victorian houses. At some point around 2010, I began to think about how the environment would affect how you feel about the figures in the paintings and what their situation is. I had the opportunity to use a contemporary home as a setting for a photoshoot and the resulting paintings immediately seemed to engage more with how we live now, instead of looking as though they could have been painted any time in the last 150 years.




    ES: The way you paint your figures in these spaces makes it feel as though we are spying on them; it’s quite voyeuristic. We are viewing them through windows, often from a height or through bannisters as though we’re sneaking around the house, and this creates a bit of a tension. Is that something that you are striving for, or is it a byproduct of a different aim?


    CW: There is definitely a strong sense of voyeurism in my work. I’m interested in challenging the position of the viewer, particularly in relation to my female subjects. And the paintings are very large, so there’s a sense that you could almost step into the scene. I don’t want the paintings to feel like pictures of something that’s happening somewhere else. I want you to feel like you’re involved or implicated in what’s going on.


    Read the full interview here.



    i-v Caroline Walker, quoted in Daisy Woodward, ‘Caroline Walker: In Every Dream Home’, AnOther, 2013, online

    • Provenance

      Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner in 2012

    • Exhibited

      Debrecen, MODEM Centre for Modern and Contemporary Arts; Prague, Galerie Rudolfinum; Nightfall: New Tendencies in Figurative Painting, 7 October 2012 - 24 May 2013, p. 66 (illustrated, p. 67)
      London, Pitzhanger Manor Gallery and House, Caroline Walker: In Every Dream Home, 18 July - 8 September 2013, p. 67 (illustrated, p. 66)



The Masquerade

oil on linen
180 x 240 cm. (70 7/8 x 94 1/2 in.)
Painted in 2012.

Full Cataloguing

HK$1,000,000 - 1,500,000 

Sold for HK$3,906,000

Contact Specialist

Charlotte Raybaud
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+852 2318 2026

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in association with Yongle

Hong Kong Auction 1 December 2022