The paintings in service present glimpses of women at work in the first or last light of the day, when the glowing lights of interior spaces animate the activity within. Taking a documentary approach, Caroline Walker made a series of walks around London, observing and photographing fellow Londoners, both she and they absorbed in their work. Restaurant kitchens, salons, shops, offices and workshops all feature in this series of paintings which reflect on those isolated fleeting moments that form fragments in the dislocated lives of a city.
Some of these scenes play to conventional ideas about the employment engaged in by women, particularly in the female-dominated environments of the beauty industry and retail. Other paintings look at women entering spaces thought of as traditionally more male-dominated, such as the restaurants kitchens or the tailor’s workshop, where we see women entirely absorbed in their task in an environment designed to facilitate that activity. Walker provides a glimpse into both these private spaces of production and the highly designed interiors of shops, all made visible by means of the architecture of voyeurism via glass doors, railings, and other obstacles through which to observe scenes that are visually, but not physically, accessible.
In Lauren Elkin’s essay for Walker’s upcoming monograph, she poses questions about the subjects of these paintings: “Who are these women? Where do they live? How do they define themselves with relation to their work?” Such questions are the very essence of what Walker touches upon in her work and leaves open-ended. Social class, value of work, and the relationship of the individual to the commercialized public space of the city are exposed in service. We encounter women in a variety of professions in Walker’s paintings, but to what extent does their work define who they are?
One could interpret service through the undercurrent of social critique at play in these works, however we could also adhere to the title as a non-judgmental observation by the artist. service explores female figures in interior spaces, momentarily giving us a glimpse into the lives of others that share the space of the city. Jean-Paul Sartre’s saying “existence precedes essence” comes to mind as Walker underlines that there is beauty to be found in the intermittent fragments of stillness, encountered in lost moments of our daily existence.