Atlanta Contemporary Art Center Presents “Hew Locke: House of Cards”, November 13, 2004 – January 8, 2005.

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Atlanta Contemporary Art Center presents “Hew Locke: house of cards”, November 13, 2004 – January 8, 2005. An opening reception is scheduled for November 13, 7 – 9 pm, preceded by a gallery talk, 6 - 7 pm. gallery hours for the run of the show are Tuesday – Saturday, 11 am – 5 pm. - Atlanta Contemporary Art Center will present Hew Locke: House of Cards; the exhibition features a selection of the artist’s idiosyncratic portraits of British royalty in various media, and his response to other trappings of the monarchy. The show includes works previously exhibited at the Luckman Gallery in Los Angeles, as well as other recent and new work.

Hew Locke makes magnificent objects from cheap, unspectacular materials: cake decorations, paper garlands, crocheted remnants, and plastic toys. Yet, for all their surface gaiety, there is nothing easy or easy to swallow about them. Locke was born in Scotland and spent most of his youth in Guyana, moving to England as an art student. Growing up in the ‘colonies’ gave him an ironic distance from Britain and the colonialist mindset. His portraits festooned with gaudy baubles parody the kind of art often sold in airport gift stores, suggesting that the western imagination both fears and feasts upon the exotic in its midst. Locke is critical of the ways in which artists are categorized according to their presumed ethnic affiliations. In using cardboard as the basis for many of his pieces, he comments on the packaging and commoditization of artists and their work.

The largest of the portraits are five cardboard cut-outs (2004) that depict Queen Elizabeth, Princess Diana, and Prince Charles in various officially represented states of age or emotion. Inspired by images on travel postcards, the deceptively detailed likenesses are formed by a lattice of small serrations into large sheets of cardboard, each highlighted by white paint and black marker pen. Thirteen small pastel and charcoal drawings from the Siren series (1999) are also included in the exhibition. Resembling facial topographies, the drawings are painstakingly adorned with minutiae befitting the royal subject matter.

Included in this exhibit will be Locke’s recent Passport Culture, which references the Queen’s Coat of Arms (as depicted on every British passport). “The piece is constructed in layers. A pen drawing on my trade-mark brown packing material is overlaid with an encrustation of strings of beads, chains of safety pins (a la Sex Pistols), fabric and butterflies. These exotic materials form themselves into a chaotic line drawing. The original Lions, Unicorns and Harp are almost swamped by drawn and cut patchwork masks and wild-eyed skulls. The piece reflects the changing / shifting nature of British cultural identity and the fear these changes often evoke.” Hew Locke

For the exhibit at the Contemporary, Locke will create a site-specific piece directly on the walls of the Contemporary. Using rope and sequin waste, he will realize a floor-to-ceiling coat of arms of his own invention as the central welcoming piece of the show. This experimental work continues in the vein of his current work and speaks to an idea that “commoners” may also aspire to the opulence of heraldry.

The satirical impulse runs deep in Locke’s work. His visual discussions of the contradictions of royalty are at once affectionate, humorous, and grotesque. Like the house of cards of the exhibition’s title, the monarchy is depicted as precariously balanced in a time of shifting priorities. Yet there is nothing overtly critical about the series, hovering as it does between moral and emotional registers.

Locke’s work questions the complex relationship between the powerful and the powerless, and the high and low. Often using base materials as the primary elements of his works, Locke comments on the commoditization of his subjects and of artists themselves. His sources of inspiration include Rococo, Medieval and Islamic architecture, Royalty ephemera, Victorian funfairs and carousels. He draws from everyday sources, especially from habitual trips to the Brixton Market, discount fabric shops and thrift stores. Most influential to his work, however, is Locke’s own colonial background. Born in Edinburgh in 1959, in 1965 he moved with his English mother and Guyanese father to Georgetown, Guyana. Locke returned to Britain at the age of 21 and studied printmaking at Falmouth College; he currently lives in London. Regarding his artistic practice, Locke states, “My work reflects this diversity and various historical fusions still being played out in these post-colonial societies. I have had a long involvement with the idea of ‘invented culture,’ which has developed into a strong interest in how different cultures evolve and invent themselves, and select their symbols of nationhood.”

Hew Locke’s “King Creole”, a large interpretation of the House of Commons’ Pugin Crest, recently adorned the Millbank Entrance to Tate Britain, welcoming visitors to British Art Week.

The exhibition of Hew Locke: House of Cards represents Atlanta Contemporary Art Center’s ongoing commitment to bringing the highest quality contemporary art to Atlanta and the Southeastern region.

Founded in 1973, The Contemporary is a non-profit multidisciplinary arts organization dedicated to excellence, experimentation and education in all forms of contemporary art. Atlanta Contemporary Art Center, 535 Means Street, NW, Atlanta, Georgia 30318, phone (404) 688-1970, http://www.thecontemporary.org.

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Stanley Woodard