With a fluid approach to aesthetics and a keen focus on the female form as her central subject, Melbourne-based artist Caroline Walls creates visually subdued artworks ranging in medium from soft sculptures to paintings to drawings.
Walls comes from a background in design, having worked as a designer and art director for ten years before making a permanent, full-time shift into art-making in 2016. The multitalented and driven artist has experienced a somewhat stratospheric rise in recognition in recent years, with Caroline’s quietly bold but sensual works proving fitting additions to many a carefully curated home both in Australia and abroad. We spoke with Caroline recently about her art, her conceptual process, and why she does what she does.
Tell us about your upbringing, do you feel you were creative as a child?
I was born in Auckland before moving to Sydney and then Melbourne with my mum, dad, and two older brothers. Growing up, our home was always open and filled with lots of laughter and good food. I always, always loved art—when I was nine I created a self-portrait of my cat and I that was shown at a local exhibition; someone purchased it, and I think that early encouragement solidified what I wanted to do with my time, from that moment on. I’ve never deferred from that love of creativity, throughout school, university, and now well into my career.
What is it that motivates you from day to day?
Women I know that have and continue to forge an authentic life for themselves and their family that it’s true to their hopes and dreams, my wonderful wife, everyday human experiences—the mundane, the amazing, the heartbreaking and the silly.
You live and work in Melbourne, but you’ve spent time living in both London and New York. How do your surroundings influence your work?
I’ve found it’s not so much any particular city but instead just the element of change to my surrounds that can ignite great inspiration. I think travelling, openness, moving away for the sameness you might have become accustomed to is key to invigorate all your senses. Living in these different cities allowed me a real sense of freedom that I think has been essential to my gaining personal insights into who I am, how I want to live and what I need for further growth and contentment.
What are you currently reading?
Artful by Ali Smith—for the third time.
As well as her foundational art practice, Walls has also embarked on a number of unique and innovative artistic collaborations—such as with Wellmade Clothes in 2017 for their Gender Equality Campaign, with Masini and Chern Luxury Sleepwear on a limited edition printed pyjama set, a limited edition run of hand-printed flax linen pillows for Dazed & Amazed, and a line of printed tee shirts made with Kowtow in November of last year, with a portion of all proceeds from that project going towards the International Women’s Development Agency.
Why is living a ‘creative’ life so important?
For myself, living a creative life is a certain way of thinking and responding to life—it’s having an openness and sense of curiosity about the world around me. I think my sense of creativity informs not just my art practice but how I interact with my friends and loved ones and how I approach my day to day life. It’s not something I readily think about. I have been creatively focused in some way or another ever since I can remember, so it’s all I really know. It brings me a great sense of joy and purpose, and I feel very lucky that I can feel continually inspired to create and explore through art-making.
You work over several mediums—soft sculpture, painting, drawing, print-making. How would you describe the overall aesthetic of your art?
Working across multiple mediums allows me to explore the same theme in many ways—to produce new and unique responses to the notion of the ‘female’ and what this can evoke through varying the tactile and aesthetic qualities of each medium. The process of reduction plays an essential part in the aesthetics and visual creation of my works, subtracting detail and simplifying forms to create highly abstracted yet hopefully gestural artworks that, although streamlined, still achieve a sense of expression and vitality. It is as much about the lines that I choose to paint as it is about the lines and curves I choose to leave out. Ultimately I aim not to transcribe, but rather imply femininity and all that this word can carry with it; strength, fertility, fragility, sexuality, burden, and beauty.
What would you say are some of the rather difficult aspects about what you do?
There is always a little self-doubt and fear when releasing a new body of work into the world—it can be really daunting having spent months working in quite a solitary manner to then reveal it—hoping that people respond to the work in one way or another and that it resonates with an
Your works obviously bear quite a strong influence of womanhood and femininity. How important is the present and evolving dialogue surrounding the empowerment of women and the continued striving for equality to you in your work, and do you find your art reflecting the climate, or do you try to maintain a sense of impartiality?
As a woman artist working with the female form, I think it’s incredibly important that I continue to explore what is truly ours (our bodies) and for it to be acknowledged and recognised as a means to stand for empowerment and equality. The lines, curves, and shapes that make up the female form that I use in my art are a way for me to celebrate the notion of the female—I am deeply curious about the way gender lines and sexuality plays into our understanding and approach to the world around us. As a woman, I have a firsthand understanding of how the female body feels, both in the physical and psychological sense—whereas a male artist can only understand the female body observationally.
In today’s social and political climate art is a really important and powerful tool for women artists to express their true and clear voice. There is a wonderful documentary titled ‘Women Art Revolution’ that explores the rise of the women’s art community during the feminist movement of the 60’s and 70’s which I think underscores how far we have come but also highlights that we need to keep the conversation of reaching true gender equality going and art really is a powerful vehicle for achieving this. Rather than a pushback on current societal ideals of what a beautiful woman may look like, I’m more interested in seeing (and exploring in my own practice) women artists depicting the female nude without boundaries—which until relatively recently has been cornered by male artists. I am ever curious about the differences between the private and the public self and how outside forces (social media etc.) can impede on a woman’s truest self—the unseen aspect of a woman—and about the way sense of self and sexuality plays into our understanding and approach to the world around us. I hope my works can form a small part of this conversation.
Tell us an interesting fact about yourself, something people wouldn’t typically know about you.
I am seriously into exploring, tasting and experience good food and wine. I am as passionate about it as I am about art-making..heading to a gallery to see a great show, followed by a quality, inspired meal is my very favourite thing.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career as an artist?
Trust your intuition and stay true to your own vision whilst always remaining open to new ideas and processes. What do you hope people will take away from your work? I hope they see my work as a celebration of women and womanhood in all its guises—unapologetic, bold and full of strength.
Caroline is presently readying her fourth solo show, ‘Darker Places’, which is due to open this coming August.
To be further inspired, click here.
Words | Erin Stobie