Elizabeth Walker was born on the 26th
November 1969, in Stockton California with African – American heritage. She is
well known to be a contemporary painter, sillhouettist, print-maker,
installation artist and film maker; focusing on subjects like race, gender,
sexuality, violence and identity in her work. Kara graduated from both the
Atlanta College and the Rhode Island School of Design. Her most noticeable
pieces of work include ‘Darkytown Rebellion’, ‘No place (like home)’ and ‘A
subtlety’. She has won awards such as the MaCarthur Fellow award, Larry
Uldrich, the Deutsche Bank Prize and the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Walker is best known for her panoramic friezes of cut-paper silhouettes -black
figures against white walls-. Her work addresses American slavery and racism
with violent unsettling imagery. She also produces gouache, watercolour, video
animation, shadow puppets and ‘magic-lantern’ projections. Kara is well known
for her large scale sculptural installations, such as a subtlety. The black and
white silhouettes in work represent a reality of history / stereotypes from the
slavery era which relate to modern-day concerns. These explorations of racism
are applied to different countries and cultures regarding race and gender. She
reminds her viewers of the power of art to defy conventions.
Kara walker first became known to the art
world in 1994 with her piece “Gone, An Historical Romance of a Civil War as it
Occurred Between the Dusky Thighs of One Young Negress and Her Heart” which is
a cut – paper silhouette mural presenting an old-timey south filled with sex
and slavery. At age 27, she became the second youngest recipient to receive
John D. and Catherine T. Macarthur Foundation’s “genius” grant. In 2007, the
Walker Art Centre exhibition KW: My Complement, My Oppressor, My Enemy, My Love
became her first full-scale US museum survey. Walker currently lives in New
York and is teaching as a professor in visual arts (on the MFA program) at
Columbia University, and has been doing so since 2001.
Walker’s work is heavily influenced by
Adrian Piper’s “who played with her identity as a light-skinned black woman to
flush racism out of hiding”, for her political self – portraits, which convey
ostracism, otherness, racial ‘passing’ and racism; Andy Warhol because of his
omnivorous eye and moral distance; and Robert Colescott who inserted cartoonish
Dixie sharecroppers into his version of Van Gogh’s Dutch peasant cottages.
Kara’s silhouette work is to bridge
unfinished folklore in the Antebellum South. She is raising identity and gender
issues, particularly for African – American women. Because of her
confrontational approach to things, Walker is reminiscent of Andy Warhol’s Pop
Art in the 1960s; she adored him and his work as a child.
A Subtlety, or the Marvellous Sugar Baby
(2014) is monumental in many ways. It was almost entirely built from sugar that
had been hardened and moulded into shapes for the sculpture and was surrounded
by multiple hard candy – like life – size sculptures of young boys, which were
inspired by some racist dolls that Walker had found online. Walker built her
sculpture in an abandoned Dominoes Sugar Plantation, and 10 tonnes of sugar was
donated by the Dominoes company. It was already pre – planned that after the
exhibition, the piece and the Plantation was to be destroyed.
This sculpture is monumental because it
shows the stereotypes of African – American women in the slavery era, also how
they’re stereotyped to be seen in modern times.
Banksy created the Balloon Girl mural in 2002. The meaning behind this
piece is unclear, as Banksy is said to have left it to the viewers to decide
what it could mean. There are a lot of possible meanings behind this piece; it
could have a personal meaning specific to the viewer, or a general message
behind the work, the girl (who looks around the ages of 5 and 8 years old) is
reaching out for / letting go of a red heart shaped balloon. The mural is a
stencilled piece, created with just a stencil and some spray paint. It has a
simple title: ‘Balloon Girl’, which does nothing but show what is in the actual
piece. Because of the simple title, it is unbiased and doesn’t change my views.
Banksy creates realistic work but always adds a twist of unreality, whether
it’s clear or barely noticeable. The Balloon Girl is one of his more realistic
works, whereas other art is much less realistic. The message communicated
through this mural is unclear, which gives the viewer the freedom to decide on
their own message behind it. There can be a couple of different themes; for
example, the little girl could be reaching out to the balloon which represents
a kind of parental love that they wish for and don’t currently have; or the
little girl could be the viewer, letting go of an unneeded love such as an
abusive relationship or a break up, in hopes of a fresh start. The
possibilities behind Banksy’s piece is endless.
Banksy is a very original artist, with
clear meanings and messages portrayed in (most of) his work. He started as a
freehand artist (from 1990 – 1994) as part of Bristol’s DryBreadZ Crew (DBZ)
with two other artists known as Kato and Tes. He was inspired by local artists
around the Bristol City area, which has carried on to his current work. Banksy
moved from free handing his work to stencilling when he saw a stencilled serial
number under a rubbish lorry. He saw this whilst he was hiding from the police
in 2001, and learnt that it’s easier and faster to stencil rather than to
freehand. Stencils are easily made from discarded boxes and cardboard, which is
how Banksy created his. The tools he uses to create his works are all simple.
For the Balloon Girl, he used cans of spray paint in black and bright red. The
girl being painted with black shadows against a white background, and the
heart-shaped balloon painted a bold bright red; easily making this the focus of
the piece as it creates a whole variety of meanings behind it. Banksy has been
stencilling his art since 2001 onwards, and this is evident with his style of
work, because of the blocked colours and shapes. This helps the communicated
intentions. Stencilling is an easily created and simple technique, which
juxtaposes against the complexity of the meanings. Although it takes a small
amount of time to complete, it is a simple piece to look at, whereas it takes
quite a bit of time and concentration to figure out a meaning.
The focal point of the mural is the
heart-shaped balloon, this is the source of meaning for the whole piece.
Without the balloon, the work would have a lot less meaning as it would just be
a little girl reaching into the distance. I’m unsure of the size, however there
are wall decals online selling at ‘life – size’ which are 112cm / 44″ tall. The
actual mural is also life – size, but accurate to how an actual average young
girl would look with regards to height, weight, etc. Banksy created this mural
on the wall of a shop, so originally the surface would be smooth because of the
many layers of paint on it. But due to many years of erosion, the paint is
flaking off and leaving jagged areas on the piece. The mural is made from
simple colours, black and red. It was created from a stencil, so Banksy has
made the girl look realistic because the black spray paint is acting like
shadows on the girl, and the white background completing the look. The heart is
the simplest shape in the piece, even though this is what creates the most
I feel like the main strength of this is
that Banksy has created it to make you think. Most of his work is given direct
meanings, so if you look at it, you would already know and not think twice
about it, it’d just become a picture. So, to create a piece with no definite
meaning is good because it isn’t just a picture with a meaning, it’s a piece of
art that has many different meanings. The simplicity of the piece juxtaposes
against the complexity of the meaning. I don’t think there are many weaknesses,
as the piece is very original and it’s clear to see what is being shown. The
only weakness that could be presented in this is that other closed – minded
viewers wouldn’t really understand what Banksy is trying to do.
In my opinion, I like this piece because of
its originality and purpose to make the viewer think. Lots of art in the modern
world (and in the past) is very similar, and usually have similar meanings.
Balloon Girl is original, and doesn’t have just one meaning. The piece is
heavily influenced by politics and real – life situations that other artists
refuse to cover.
Banksy’s Balloon Girl mural was voted
Britain’s favourite piece of art by 2000 people, from a poll to launch the new
Samsung TV ‘The Frame’. This TV carries over one hundred pre – loaded pieces of
art, so your TV can be art when it isn’t being used.