LONDON — Plenty of women love shoes, but Kimberley Gundle, a South African-born artist, is actually making a living out of her weakness for footwear.
Trained at the Michaelis School of Art in Cape Town, South Africa, and at the Slade School of Art here, Gundle used to paint faces — but now feet have captured her fancy.
“Faces, which I still love to paint, speak of the past. They’re maps of life that don’t hide a person’s history. Shoes help portray the mood and personality of the wearer,” says Gundle.
Ninety Gundle works are currently included in “The Shoe Fits: Portraits Below the Knee,” at the Art First gallery in Mayfair, and feature an array of footwear from shiny shoes worn by the Beefeaters at the Tower of London to tennis champ Tim Henman’s Adidas sneakers.
When she’s not painting, Gundle can be found loitering around bus lines in Camden, observing people’s feet as they wait for a bus or, at night, at chic bars and restaurants in town watching the floor.
“You do feel a bit like a stalker,” she says. “I like to look at my subject for a while first, then I ask if I can take a picture.”
Gundle also interviews her subjects and sketches them to inspire her paintings. Her shoes are painted in bright, block colors, while the backgrounds, which are clear and usually nondescript, allow the shoes to stand out all the more. Her favorites are family portraits done via footwear. “I love the interaction and the hierarchy,” she says.
Although Gundle finds that most people are happy to have their feet photographed because of the anonymity, there are always a few exceptions.
“There was an embarrassing Prada moment once,” she remembers. “I fell in love with a pair of sandals in the store and was desperate to take a picture of them. I asked my friend to drop something on the floor so that we could bend down to shoot it, and then security arrived.” Gundle and her friend were asked to leave the store.
A few weeks later, the run-in became immortalized on canvas in “My Prada Moment” (2003).