Hew Locke (b. Edinburgh, UK, 1959) spent his formative years (1966–80) in Guyana before returning to the UK to complete an MA in sculpture at the Royal College of Art (1994).
In his works, Locke addresses how different cultures fashion their identities through visual symbols of authority and how these representations are altered by the passage of time. Throughout an extensive and complex practice, Locke remains dedicated to illuminating histories – highlighting the relevance of the past within the context of contemporary culture and politics. His critique of existing power structures is subtle and open-ended, encouraging the viewer to look more closely.
Coats-of-arms, public statuary, trophies, weaponry, naval warships and the costumes and regalia of state are appropriated in Locke’s sculptures, wall-hangings, installations and photographs in a continued deconstruction of state power’s iconicity and histories. Particularly renowned are his early portraits of the Queen and other monarchical figures, traditional symbols of imperial authority represented in order to consider its contemporary and commercial relevance. Locke has also explored ships as images, objects and also physical sites for artistic interventions, discovering in the ship a potent symbolism as an instrument of control in warfare, trade and culture.
For over ten years, Locke has been creating his Share series, in which original shares and bonds for now defunct turn of the twentieth century companies are meticulously reworked and painted over. These paper relics once represented fortunes. Now, they act as reminder of fortunes lost, of the countries where money flowed. Through his adaptions of these original documents, Locke creates relationships between different histories; weaving narratives between the history of the companies, their location, their development and their ultimate demise. Locke’s manipulation of the found histories of the share certificates draws the viewer’s attention to the pre-conceptions and narratives surrounding the movement of money, power, ownership and people.
Using acrylic and ink, Locke layers vivid colour onto the antique paper. These bright additions take the form of maps and memento mori, directly referring to the relic of each individual share and bond. The backgrounds representing the past are muted by Locke’s observations of the present, the confident typography and classical motifs which once implied stability and worth fade away.
Share certificates hold a firm place in Locke's oeuvre and have been part of various exhibitions and projects, including Locke’s recent touring retrospective Here’s the Thing , originally on view at IKON gallery, Birmingham, UK, and toured to Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, MO, USA and Colby College Museum of Art, ME, USA (20 February 2020–7 June 2020 - temporarily closed). In 2012, Locke was commissioned by visual arts festival, Deptford X to create a temporary artwork on Old Tide Mill School, Frankham Street, London. For this project the artist enlarged a work from the Share series to the size of a building. In 2016, Locke was included in the 13th Cuenca Biennial, Ecuador where he created a public artwork from his Share series on the outside of Casa Todos Santos on the Río Tomebamba Circuit. In 2017, Locke was commissioned by Fringe Projects Miami (FL, USA) to create a temporary installation in an empty jewellery store in downtown Miami’s historic Art Deco Moderne duPont Building. Reproductions of fifteen different artworks from the Share series were exhibited in the installation. Works from this series can be found in various private and public collections internationally.