Here’s the Thing is the most comprehensive exhibition to date of work by the artist Hew Locke. Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1959, but raised in Guyana—a British colony until 1970—Locke often sailed between the UK and South America during his childhood. Across a wide range of media, he considers the maritime vectors of mercantilism, colonialism, post-colonialism, migration, and diaspora. Within his nautical imaginary, Locke reconfigures iconographies of nationhood, and in particular, the military. The art historian Kobena Mercer has described him as “hollowing out the iconography of sovereignty that has become so all pervasive that its figurative codes are overlooked.”
Locke was interrogating public statuary well in advance of the recent high-profile debates about such monuments. A modified antique bust of Queen Victoria appears to wilt beneath a headdress and breastplate constructed from carnivalesque beads, imperial crests, and all manner of other embellishment. The artist frequently employs commonplace plastic novelties, drawing attention to the ways that these materials circulate globally and function as symbols of cultural exoticism. His overpainted share certificates (documents certifying stock ownership) offer insight into the historic movement of investment capital, magnifying the power dynamics and emblematic flourishes at play within these financial transactions. Armada, an impressive flotilla of suspended boats, poignantly evokes the universality of sea travel. By his own account, Locke is “making global links between people on the sea,” and his artwork is as historically freighted as it is contemporaneously charged.
Image: Hinterland, 2013. Acrylic paint, ink and pen on c-type photograph. Courtesy Hales Gallery, London & New York. Photo by Charles Littlewood.
Art + Conversation:
Hew Locke: Here’s the Thing
Hew Locke: Here’s the Thing
Hew Locke Interview | Ikon Gallery
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Includes an interview with Hew Locke and Ikon’s Director Jonathan Watkins. With texts by Diana Tuite, Katz Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, Colby College Museum of Art and Richard Drayton, Rhodes Professor of Imperial History, King’s College London.
IKON | Paperback | 140 pages | $25 US
Involving a wide range of media – painting, drawing, photography, sculpture and installation, Locke explores the languages of colonial and post-colonial power, and the symbols through which different cultures assume and assert identity. Fusing historical source material with a keen interest in current affairs, often through the juxtaposition or modification of existing artefacts, Locke focuses attention especially on the UK, the monarchy and his childhood home of the then newly independent Guyana.
Hew Locke: Here’s the Thing is organized by Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, UK, Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, Missouri, and the Colby College Museum of Art, Waterville, Maine. The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue published by Ikon Gallery, Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, and Colby College Museum of Art.
Banner Image: Installation view, Hew Locke: Here’s the Thing, March 8–June 2, 2019, at Ikon Gallery, Birmingham UK, courtesy the artist and Ikon Gallery. Photo: Stuart Whipps.