Where are the black people in Old Master paintings?

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These new works combine graphite drawing and blind embossing to reinterpret classic paintings. You can see that a black figure is placed in the center of each piece to provide an alternative depiction of Western artistic norms.

The work is inspired by Old Master paintings from major museums such as the National Gallery in London and the Rijksmuseum. They are by Renaissance and Dutch Golden Age painters: Veronese, Squirrel, Maitens. Their work is so beautiful and has a rich story, and you can’t help but love them. But in its beauty, they are very problematic in terms of black-figure.

As an artist, I’m particularly attracted to portraits. The people who painted the portraits were traditionally wealthy: emperors, royalty, politicians, landowners, wealthy merchants. And behind this is that the poor and colored people, who were often slaves and servants, are not important or simply invisible in their work.

I spend a lot of time at the National Gallery, and when I see those beautiful paintings, I’m looking myself — How we are represented and viewed — and understanding our journey. Often the black person is in the corner or with his back facing us. Viewers sometimes do not see these individuals. But I’ve made them high resolution and brought them to the forefront. Here, they are not just props.

‘Vanishing Point 26’ (Geertgen), 2021 © Courtesy Barbara Walker and Cristea Roberts Gallery, London

‘Marking the Moment 1’, 2021 © Courtesy Barbara Walker and Cristea Roberts Gallery, London

For over 20 years, I have contextualized the black experience. I also like the idea of ​​working with unknown, isolated, anonymous people and telling their stories. I am interested in how certain groups have disappeared from history and how they are expressed and emphasized. What you see in these figures is that the black-figure pot is in the foreground and the other components in the composition are pushed back. The black-figure style is regaining space.

I work in traditional ways and try to keep those aesthetics and principles alive. Drawing is practical, easy to access, and faster than paint, which requires a lot of unpacking. It may be a little troublesome! I’m talking about drawing and celebrating it. As some people think, it is not a follow-up to painting. And that also applies to these individuals.

'Vanishing Point 24' (Mignard), 2021

‘Vanishing Point 24’ (Mignard), 2021 © Courtesy Barbara Walker and Cristea Roberts Gallery, London

'Vanishing Point 25' (Costanzi), 2021

‘Vanishing Point 25’ (Costanzi), 2021 © Courtesy Barbara Walker and Cristea Roberts Gallery, London

Similarly, in the field of printmaking, embossing has not been popular in the last few years. It’s in the surrounding area, but I’m bringing it in as a language. Embossing is a kind of drawing in itself, a ghostly trace. Again, the subject and material sit side by side in my work and have a conversation.

I’m replicating an Old Master painting and want people to see the original in my work. Therefore, the black figure is still there. It does not completely wash, rub, or fill the white person as it used to. I want the audience to see the dynamics.

‘Marking the Moment 3’, 2021 © Courtesy Barbara Walker and Cristea Roberts Gallery, London

'Vanishing Point 33' (Spranger), 2022

‘Vanishing Point 33’ (Spranger), 2022 © Courtesy Barbara Walker and Cristea Roberts Gallery, London

As Griselda Murray Brown told me. Barbara Walker’s “Vanishing pointWill be in the Christa Roberts Gallery in London until April 23

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