Emma Walker: Tender Internal

30 May - 22 June 2024
Exhibition Text

Emma Walker distils beauty from fallibility in her new collection of paintings and sculptures, ‘Tender Internal’. Continuing the artist’s deepening fascination with the dialectics of outside and inside, the works honour hidden internal spaces and structures of protection and support. The architecture of shells, skeletons, wings and cavities within the body and earth coalesce with freeform mindscapes as Walker empathetically layers the physiological and the psychological.


Defying traditional rectangularity, Walker’s organically shaped paintings are like fissures, or portals, into interior spaces. With an approach that is both diagrammatic and symbolic, the artist looks at the vital, visceral parts of our body that are increasingly veiled beneath a glossy veneer. She quarries the tender internal, the truth beneath our skin, actively toppling the common aversions to raw internal spaces endemic to modern western societies. Images evoking vertebrae and veins, muscles and brains are summoned with a soft, somatic palette and the warm tactility of timber. These intimate anatomies are approached cartographically by Walker as vast geographies unfurl across the board. Simultaneously we glimpse details of the natural world – the inside of shells, insect wings, larvae – and through this poetry of plurality Walker shows us, fleetingly, how our innermost selves are interwoven with the eternal universe. The pelvic form in Protecting the Dreamer welds skeletal ivories with a convoluted conch, chrysalis, and an abstracted arctic topography, while Lean In sees a vertebral structure bridging itself across soft tissues and a network of arteries, or waterways. There is something xylophonic about this pseudo-spine, appealing to our sense of touch, and sound. One gets the feeling that Walker is trying to catch, with her bare hands, some elusive essence – of herself certainly, but also some inexplicable kernel of humanity.


The emphasis on texture and tactility in these works stimulates haptic responses, collapsing the chasm between our bodies and the boards. Spongey cerebral undulations, smooth viscera and dimpled tissue rub up against bones and biological networks – beguiling surfaces that are the result of layer of paint applied on timber, scraped back, sanded, gouged, grinded, scratched, carved and glazed. The physicality of Walker’s artmaking process imbues the paintings and sculptures with a sense of struggle and resilience, each piece bearing the memories of Walker’s tools like former lives lived. “All of these works have undergone a long-winded metamorphosis over the past year” she reflects, “they have all been worked on together throughout this time, a family of unique individuals. I hand them over to the viewer to make of what they will.”


Recently Walker has been experimenting with clay and learning to throw on the wheel. This intuitive process of pulling from both inside and outside, one hand within and one without, has materialised her meditations on the protean nature of previously polar constructs. In many of the works she engages with the fluidity of gender, simultaneously knitting together and pulling apart binary tropes of femininity and masculinity, and the related realms of internal and external. Pink fleshy surfaces, embryonic forms and uterine cavities in paintings such as Embrace, Dreaming, and Refuge see the artist reflecting on her embodied experience of motherhood – in all its multivalence and sublimity. Consciously she hedges these soft internal vistas with hard-edged abstractions and phallic intonations to create subtle pictures of amorphous sexuality.


As Walker gently turns inside out the body, she is also dissolving divisions between materiality and the mind. Shadowy masses akin to radiological imaging reveal, symbolically, the artist burrowing deep into the inky crevices of the human psyche. She’s interested in the wilderness of our internal landscape, those hidden parts of ourselves that dwell beyond the cultivated garden of social appearance. The mechanics of Freudian Repression at play, which is, indeed, given great currency in today’s world of impeccable façades. “Why is our interior so unacceptable?” questions Walker, “Why must we guard it and not admit to ourselves and others that we ache, that we are vulnerable, that we feel deeply?” These ideas are connected to the artist’s ongoing research on Buddhist and Vedic philosophy, identity, gender, perception and being. Yet despite the sincerity of this analysis, there is a timbre of humour in Walker’s new series. As the works evolved, the serious nature of her initial intent began to slip as unplanned forms appeared that were unintentionally sexual and comical. The artist concludes, “I have delighted in this process, in allowing for these works to become themselves, without me imposing a version of those very masks that I was initially questioning and peering behind.”


Elli Walsh
Principle Writer, Artist Profile


Walker has been exhibiting for over thirty years. Her career has enjoyed the strong support of patrons Ann Lewis AO, Nick Waterlow, OAM and Julian Beaumont OAM. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the National Art School, Sydney, and she has also studied in Italy and travelled extensively. She was a finalist in the Paddington Art Prize (2017, 2013, 2010, 2008) and winner of the prestigious Jacaranda Acquisitive Drawing Award (2014). Walker has held numerous exhibitions in both Sydney and Melbourne, and her work features in several major public and corporate collections including Macquarie Bank, Australian Club, Sydney, Lismore Regional Gallery, Tweed Regional Gallery & Margaret Olley Art Centre and Bathurst Regional Gallery, in addition to various private collections in Australia, Indonesia, the Netherlands, Hong Kong, the United Kingdom and the United States.

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