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Hew Locke

Born, 1959 in Edinburgh

Hew Locke was born in Edinburgh, Scotland  in 1959 and lived much of his early life in Georgetown, the capital of Guyana, the country of his father’s birth, from 1966 until 1980. [His father was Donald Locke, a highly accomplished and distinguished sculptor, whose work was introduced to new audiences when it was included in Rasheed Araeen’s 1989 Hayward Gallery exhibition, The Other Story.] Hew Locke gained a BA in Fine Art from Falmouth School of Art (having studied alongside Alistair Raphael) and an MA in Sculpture from the Royal College of Art, London, in 1988 and 1994 respectively. Locke’s distinctive work is widely celebrated for what sometimes appear at first glance to be somewhat offbeat and slightly eccentric sculptural forms, most frequently, in recent years, renditions of prominent members of the British royal family. Closer inspection of his work reveals, for some, much more intellectually textured and heavily nuanced readings.

Locke was one of five artists selected by Rose Issa for inclusion in her exhibition Routes, at Brunei Gallery, SOAS, London, 1999. In her introductory catalogue essay, Issa wrote, “Hew Locke’s installation, part boat, part shrine, made of corrugated cardboard, reflects his views on global commodification of culture and exoticism. His response to how people view art such as his own was to put his previously wild and colourful sculptures in cages. He believes that his work is often perceived as an exotic product ‘from the Caribbean’, no matter what he does. His recent work reflects a dramatic change: colour is out, the folk quality is gone, and in come black and white figures and constructions, marked with numbers and words such as ‘export’ and ‘import’. His drawings have diverse allusions to Velasquez, Hogarth, and French chivalric portraits. The part human, part animal figures of the ‘Infanta’ series or the ‘Mercenaries’, dressed in elaborate 16th and 17th century costumes, display a mastery of technique and have a commanding presence..” [from Singing Your Own Song, Rose Issa, Curator]

Locke has achieved considerable success and recognition in recent years and his work has been exhibited in substantial group and solo exhibitions in the UK and internationally. A particularly significant group exhibition in which Locke’s work was included was Infinite Island, curated by Tumelo Mosaka, Associate Curator of Exhibitions at the Brooklyn Museum, the venue at which the exhibition was shown between August 31, 2007 and January 27, 2008. The exhibition presented some eighty recent works made since the turn of the millennium. [In some ways this was a different kind of ‘Caribbean Art’ exhibition. Infinite Island attempted to reflect not just the region’s mix of cultures, but also its multiple histories, diasporas, and the social, economic and political realities, not only of those living within the region, but those artists and people who lived elsewhere in the world, but whose roots lay in the Caribbean.] Locke’s work was included in British Art Show 6 (Gateshead, Manchester, Nottingham and, Bristol, 2006).

Hew Locke had a major solo exhibition at The New Art Gallery Walsall, 29 April - 26 June 2005. It was from within this context that we now have a substantial and useful essay on Locke’s work King Creole - Hew Locke’s New Visions of Empire written by Kris Kuramitsu for the  exhibition. The lavish, substantial catalogue also contains A Sargasso Sea-Hoard of Deciduous Things… Hew Locke and Sarat Maharaj in conversation. Maharaj shed much calm, reflective and perceptive light on the nature and complexity of Locke’s practice. The conversation opened with: For me the singularity of your work springs from its wit – its humour and sense of play. These qualities are at odds with the earnest tonals and high seriousness of concepts like ‘postcolonial, trans-national, commonwealth, creole’ – even if they do throw keen light on your ways of seeing and making. The wit seems to resist and short circuit blanket categories that claim to ‘explain’ the shape of your thinking and practice.”

Kuramitsu described the artist’s practice as follows: “Locke has created an ongoing series of portrait heads of the Royal Family that he calls simply ‘The House of Windsor’. Locke engages with notions of empire by engaging with the embodiment of that power itself, playing with our great symbolic investment in these individuals. It might seem impossible to successfully intervene in these images, as it is so easy for them to become dismissible cartoons. But Locke renders them with a lavish attention that denies a simple negative reading. The House of Windsor includes charcoal drawings, elaborately cut and monochromatically painted cardboard heads on a monumental scale, and a series of collaged object portraits, such as Black Queen (2004). Using mass-produced plastic toys and decorations, found in pound shops and second-hand stores, Locke paints portraits of the Queen through artful accumulation…” Kuramitsu concludes her essay by expressing the view that “Hew Locke produces work that does not simply disavow the colonial past, but acknowledges its foundational role in a contemporary urban postcoloniality.”

Testament to the popularity of Locke’s work is its inclusion in many important art collections. These include (in London) The Victoria & Albert Museum Drawing Collection,  The British Museum, The Government Art Collection, The Tate Gallery Collection, and The Arts Council Collection. Elsewhere in the country, Locke’s work is in the collections of The New Art Gallery Walsall, London and The Henry Moore Institute. Within the US, where Locke has exhibited regularly, his work is to be found in the Collection of Eileen and Peter Norton, Santa Monica, The Brooklyn Museum Collection (his work was acquired from the Infinite Island exhibition), and others.

An installation shot of a Hew Locke exhibition at Hales Gallery, London were reproduced as part of a chapter by Amna Malik - Migratory Aesthetics: (Dis)placing the Black Maternal Subject in Martina Attille’s Dreaming Rivers (1988) - in “Black” British Aesthetics Today. Published by: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2007

Within the chapter, Malik erroneously state “One might also mention the work of Guyana-born artist Hew Locke.” Locke was in fact born in Edinburgh.

Related items + view all 19

click to show details of Hew Locke | The Kingdom of the Blind - invite

»  Hew Locke | The Kingdom of the Blind - invite

Invite relating to an exhibition, 2008

click to show details of In Black and White: Prints from Africa and the Diaspora

»  In Black and White: Prints from Africa and the Diaspora

Book relating to a publication, 2013

click to show details of On My Radar: Hew Locke’s cultural highlights

»  On My Radar: Hew Locke’s cultural highlights

Article relating to an individual, 2011

click to show details of Prisoners of the Sun: Hew Locke in Conversation with Kobena Mercer

»  Prisoners of the Sun: Hew Locke in Conversation with Kobena Mercer

Announcement relating to an individual, 2012

click to show details of Routes

»  Routes

Catalogue relating to an exhibition, 1999

Related exhibitions + view all 9

»  Hew Locke

Solo show at The New Art Gallery Walsall. 2005

»  Hew Locke | Starchitect

Solo show at ArtSway. 2011

Related venues - view 5

»  ArtSway

Sway, Hampshire, United Kingdom

»  Cartwright Hall

Bradford, United Kingdom

»  Chisenhale Gallery

London, United Kingdom

»  City Gallery Leicester

Leicester, United Kingdom

»  Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA)

London, United Kingdom

»  Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art

Kansas City, Missouri, United States of America

»  Kunsthal KAdE

Amersfoort, Netherlands

»  Manchester City Art Gallery

Manchester, United Kingdom

»  The New Art Gallery Walsall

Walsall, United Kingdom

»  Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts

Norwich, United Kingdom