Cinematic Paintings Set in a Modernist Los Angeles Home

Desayuno, 2017© Caroline Walker, Courtesy of Anat Ebgi

Caroline Walker’s new series Sunset draws on the alluring, alien aesthetics of California architecture

Scotland-born, London-based artist Caroline Walker creates enigmatic images of domestic interiors that delve into an anonymous, collective female psyche. They offer a glimpse into women-dominated environments – from nail bars to suburban homes – typified by either their sense of community, or their distinct solitude. Her playful use of colour evokes the richness of celluloid film, while her distinct framing techniques carve connections to cinematic principles. To coincide with her new exhibition at Anat Ebgi in Los Angeles, she talks to AnOther about the alluring, alien aesthetics of California architecture.

On setting the scene...
“My process usually starts with finding a location, then casting models, finding clothing and props that fit the particular character I have in mind, and then working with the models on set for a day, photographing them enacting different scenarios. I take hundreds of photos, which I then work with back in the studio to put together the paintings, first starting with lots of drawings and oil sketches for possible compositions before moving on to the large-scale works.”

On the Sunset series... 
“In the case of Sunset, I already had the model in mind, as I’d worked with her before as part of a group for a previous project based in California. I really liked her look, she is a former Miss America pageant contestant (Miss Colorado 1977). I found this interesting in the context of my wider interests, so when I was offered the show at Anat Ebgi I was keen to work with her again, but this time to create a more narratively driven series developing a particular character.

“I had an idea for an ageing beauty and tried to imagine where she might live in LA. When I was looking for the house, I wanted somewhere in the hills with a pool, views of the city, and preferably modernist architecture. Once I’d found the house I started developing the character with the help of a friend that lives in LA and worked in the world that I imagined this woman would occupy.

“She helped me storyboard some scenes that might appear like a day in her life – what she’d be wearing; what she’d be doing; where she’d go if she were going out; and who else might feature as part of her lifestyle, which ended up including a pool boy and a couple of Yorkshire terriers (who I borrowed for an afternoon from a friend).

“I imagined her character to be fully formed but for the specifics of her narrative to be unclear. The cinematic is very important in my work, and I tend to think about a series of work as being like stills from a film, but not the ones that reveal the plot. There is no definitive narrative in my mind when I’m making the paintings, but lots of potential ways of interpreting this woman and her life.”

On Los Angeles...
“This show is my second foray into working with California as my subject. The first included a series set at a hotel and house in Palm Springs and an apartment block in downtown LA. My subject matter nearly always encompasses environments which aren’t that familiar to me or aren’t part of my daily life, so become somewhere I can project a narrative onto which is not my own. LA is somewhere I’m drawn to because it has this air of familiarity – we all know it from TV and film, yet it is still unfamiliar; it’s real and somehow unreal, and plays into ideas about artificiality and constructed identity and narrative, which are enduring interests for me.” 

On the Modernist home... 
“The choice of the Modernist house feeds into this same interest, as a lot of the intent within that architecture was to design spaces that consider how one might live and move around in them. The way I think about making paintings is about a constructed sense of a place and what people do in that place, so conceptually the Modernist house seems like an apt environment, as it already feels like a set. Also, the paintings have the superficial signifiers of an aspirational life, but there is an isolation in the woman’s position in her house which is physically shielded from the city, and that potential alienation is accentuated by the stark architecture.”

 

On colour...
“Colour and lighting is a huge consideration for me, in how I put together the paintings. In film, cinematography can really change how we perceive a scene, and I enjoy playing with the painterly equivalent of those tools of composition and manipulation or exaggeration of colour to create a very particular atmosphere in each painting. I tend to work with quite a limited palette though I change what this is in each painting, and I enjoy working with different and sometimes unusual colour combinations.” 

Caroline Walker: Sunset is at Anat Ebgi, Los Angeles until March 3, 2018.

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