Throughout an extensive and complex practice, Locke remains dedicated to illuminating histories and geographies – highlighting the relevance of the past within the context of contemporary culture and politics. Exploring the visual languages of colonial and post-colonial powers, Locke reassesses the figureheads and imagery representative of nationhood.
Where Lies the Land? is a timely exploration of authoritarian power, migration and globalisation in a climate of increasing political uncertainty and heightened anxiety. For over thirty years Locke has been engaged with unpacking visual codes – using everyday materials to create conflations of history and modernity. Locke’s critique of existing power structures is subtle and open-ended, encouraging the viewer to look more closely.
For this exhibition, which takes its title from a nautical poem by Victorian poet Arthur Hugh Clough, Locke has created a new installation of suspended boats – a continuation of the artist’s longstanding exploration of ships. The flotilla appears as votive, at once representing both safe and dangerous passage. Individual boats are embellished with objects and cargo that can be seen as allegories of voyages made by explorers, colonialists, migrants, traders, refugees or pirates. Locke’s elegant fleet speaks of both hope and fear, evoking paradoxical notions of displacement and home.
Locke’s new house-boat-hybrid echoes the timber homes found all over Guyana (built on stilts to avoid regular flooding), many of which are now being abandoned in a period of rapid development. The installation evokes a sense of change, the past and the present colliding on an imaginary ocean.
In another thread of the exhibition, Locke turns his eye on the current national nostalgia for the Imperial past, demonstrated in the success of TV series such as ‘The Young Victoria’ and ‘Downton Abbey’. His series entitled Souvenirs (2018 onwards) grew from his collection and research into Parian busts of Queen Victoria and other worthies. Popularised at the Great Exhibition in 1851, Parian Ware was an innovative imitation marble produced on a mass scale, allowing middle-class Victorians to proudly display statuary in their homes.
Locke has exquisitely masked the royal busts with opulent crests, crowns, talismans, trade-beads, memento mori and military insignia. The burden of colonial history is conveyed through physically weighing down each sovereign. Enticingly glittering and gold, on closer inspection the regalia is revealed to be just brass. Elevating low materials to high status, the work speaks of aspiration and the desire for gold as a motive for trade.
In Souvenirs, Locke encourages a greater understanding of iconography, contributing to the current conversation regarding the future of public statues with complex legacies. Instead of destroying or ignoring, Locke transforms statues in order to reveal and re-contextualise them.
Where Lies the Land? is an exhibition imbued with nuanced narratives and meanings. Locke poetically demonstrates that although the past is often only selectively remembered, traces will always remain in the global present.
Born in 1959 in Edinburgh, UK, Hew Locke spent his formative years (1966-1980) in Guyana before returning to the UK to complete a BA in Fine Art at Falmouth University (1988), and an MA in sculpture at the Royal College of Art (1994). He lives and works in London.
The exhibition at Hales London succeeds Locke’s major show, Here’s the Thing at IKON gallery in Birmingham (2019) which is touring to Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, Missouri, USA (12 September 2019 – 5 January 2020) and Colby College Museum of Art, Maine, USA (20 February – 7 June 2020).
Selected solo shows and presentations include Imperial War Museum, London, UK; V&A Museum, London, UK; the New Art Gallery, Walsall, UK; the Bluecoat Gallery, Liverpool, UK; Perez Art Museum Miami, FL, USA; Prospect.3, New Orleans, LA, USA; the Luckman Fine Arts Complex, LA, USA; Atlanta Contemporary Art Center, GA, USA; Chisenhale Gallery, London, UK; The Rathaus, Bremen, Germany; and Kochi-Murziris Biennial, India.
Selected group shows include National Portrait Gallery, London, UK; Tate Britain, London, UK; the British Museum, London, UK; the New York Museum of Art and Design, NY, USA; Brooklyn Museum, NY, USA; Studio Museum, Harlem, New York, USA; The Met Breuer, New York, USA; the Bell House, Prague, Czech Republic; Kunsthal KAdE, Amersfoort, Netherlands; National Gallery of Singapore; and Hangzhou Triennial of Fiber Art, China.
Locke's work is represented in many collections including the Tate Gallery, UK; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY, USA ; The Government Art Collection, UK; the Arts Council of England, UK; the Brooklyn Museum, NY, USA; Victoria & Albert Museum, London, UK; the British Museum, London, UK; Pérez Art Museum Miami, FL, USA; the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, USA; Santa Barbara Museum of Art, CA, USA; Kansas City Collection, USA; the Arnold Lehman Collection, USA; the RISD Museum, RI, USA; the New Art Gallery, Walsall UK; Henry Moore Institute, Leeds, UK; and Der Kunsthalle Bremen, Germany.