Hew Locke’s work varies from large-scale wall bead hangings through to small-scale, layered drawings. The most dominant strand of ideas are the artist’s appropriation of the emblems of power: portraits of royalty, coats of arms, public statues, share certificates. These are reproduced, and added to, using all manner of embellishment and ornament. Coats of Arms are remade in strings of beads, royal portraits rendered in plastic flowers and jewellery, also used to adorn photographs of statues.
As one writer has suggested:
“Queen Elizabeth, coats of arms and trophies of colonial power, Hew Locke’s work is festooned with the icons of British hierarchy all reproduced Archimboldo-style out of the carefully placed plastic stuff of global commerce” (Jens Hoffman in the artist monograph Stranger in Paradise, Black Dog Publishing)
The embellishment and decorative aspects of Hew’s work is often the result of layering different time periods: centuries-old coats of arms are re-imagined in the cheap throwaway materials of modern life such as market-stall jewellery; share certificates from old, now defunct companies are transformed by the artist revealing another aspect to the company’s finances.
Hew is fascinated by history and how events of the past are recalled and represented today, making him a astute choice for the Runnymede public art commission. He was born in Scotland in 1959 and was brought up from an early age in Guyana until he returned to the UK in 1980. In Guyana, a former colony and newly independent Commonwealth country, he grew up surrounded by images of Queen Elizabeth II and other symbols of British colonial power. His use of these images appears to be as much about adorning and celebrating them, as it is about re-imaging and perhaps critiquing their power.
To explore Hew’s work in more detail here are four useful starting points:
The Nameless (2010) and Vita Veritas, Victoria (2007)
These are two large scale bead works by Hew Locke. Vita Veritas Victoria is in the Tate Collection. When The Nameless was being made for Hew’s exhibition at Hales Gallery, Tate made a video with Hew talking about his bead works, coats of arms series and how this style developed. Watch the video.
Since 2008, Hew has made many artworks using old company share certificates, often drawing directly onto the certificates. Ruined, a permanent public artwork for Brunswick Cemetery Gardens, Bristol and produced by Situations, is a cluster of ten cast iron grave markers, each representing a ‘dead company. Watch a video about Ruined.
For Those In Peril (2011)
Ships and boats often feature in Hew Locke’s work. There are three in The Jurors. Whether it is slave ships, refugee boats, fishing vessels, pirate ships, The Windrush or tankers full of oil, rubbish or manufactured goods, Hew sees these vessels as symbolic of international trade and commerce, both now and in the past. His work For Those In Peril, was made for the Folkestone Triennial in 2011 and displayed a diversity of model boats, decorated and embellished and hung from the ceiling of a church. This video conversation between Hew and Kobena Mercer begins with a discussion about this artwork. Watch the video.