Donald Locke

Folded Seed with Clip


Not on display

Donald Locke 1930–2010
Ceramic and aluminium
Object: 180 × 280 × 200
Lent by Tate Americas Foundation, courtesy of Timothy Griffith 2020
On long term loan


Folded Seed with Clip 1972–4 is a small sculpture by the Black British artist Donald Locke. It is comprised of two parts that rest on each other: a larger, glazed black ceramic piece with two bulging, nearly symmetrical parts and a recessed area in the middle; and a smaller cast aluminium element – the ‘clip’ of the title – that inserts itself into the recessed area of the ceramic piece. Both elements have rounded and organic forms, with irregular surfaces. The glazing of the ceramic and shimmering of the aluminium confer on the work a shining, sensual quality. The work is representative of Locke’s early and lasting commitment to pottery in the creation of sculpture rather than as functional objects. In the 1970s Locke gained a growing recognition for his ceramic work and, in 1972, he was invited to exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London in the International Exhibition of Ceramics. Two works titled Folded Seed with Clip, from the same period as the one discussed, were exhibited in Donald Locke, Mixed-media Ceramics at the Commonwealth Art Gallery, London in 1975.

This work is one among many polished ceramic sculptures, suggestive of seed pods and gourds, that can be read as fertility symbols and which Locke created in the first half of the 1970s. In 1989, in the exhibition The Other Story, Locke exhibited three such sculptures alongside his major work Trophies of Empire 1972–4, also in Tate’s collection (Tate T14319). The play of duality suggested by this juxtaposition – between violence and fertility, or human and biomorphic forms – allows for a shifting symbolism that has been discussed as challenging stereotypes of both imperial occupiers and exploited native, enslaved or colonised people. For artist and curator of The Other Story Rasheed Araeen (born 1935), Locke’s work addresses sexual exchanges within the power-shaped social dynamics of the historical time and alludes to colonialism and slavery (Rasheed Araeen, ‘The Other Story: Recovering Cultural Metaphors’, in The Other Story, exhibition catalogue, Hayward Gallery, London 1989, p.90).

Despite his commitment to ceramics and, later, to casting bronze, Locke worked in all sorts of materials, drawing, painting and sculpting in a variety of mediums (see Tate L04344–54, T15769, T14319). Interested in exploring different materials and forms, after moving to London in 1971, Locke entered into a phase of open-ended experimentation, accepting no procedural or technical limitations and imperatives on his work (Locke 2011, pp.31 and 63). Locke had studied art in Georgetown, Guyana under Edward Rupert Burrowes (1903–1966). In 1954, through a British Council Scholarship, he went to study ceramics at Bath School of Art and Design in Britain, where he was taught painting by William Scott and Bryan Winter, sculpture by Kenneth Armitage and Bernard Meadows, and pottery by James Tower, one of the first potters to use plaster rather than the two most traditional methods, the potter’s wheel and coiling. Between 1959 and 1963, supported by a Guyanese government scholarship, Locke pursued further education at the Edinburgh School of Art. There he was taught by Sheldon Kaganoff (a pupil of Peter Voulkos, one of the leading artists who established the California Clay Movement in the 1950s and a lecturer in Edinburgh between 1962–5) and also met other artists committed to the expressive possibilities of clay as an artform (such as Dave Cohen and Dion Myers). Nonetheless, Locke was frustrated by the way in which work in ceramics was discussed by most practitioners and critics, applying criteria relating to a rigid and often ideological understanding rooted in a very specific and narrow technical tradition.

Writing in 2004, Locke explained that in the past he had been concerned by the fact that his sculpture, painting and work in other mediums seemed to emerge out of radically different stylistic approaches. This troubled him because it contrasted with the widely held view that an artist’s significance depended on consistency of style, medium and subject matter. He later came to realise that his work had always been preoccupied with, and had emerged from, the background of ‘Creole’ America’. Locke wrote: ‘In retrospect, it appears that the work has always been trying to encompass and bend to the will of the imagination, every aspect of the life and experience of Black people in the New World – the landscapes they inhabit, their physical uniqueness, the folk-lore and myths which crowd their imagination, and the socio-economic legacies they inherited from the past.’ (Donald Locke, ‘Artist’s Statement’, Atlanta, April 2004, included in the press release for his solo exhibition at Skoto Gallery, New York, 2004,, accessed 28 October 2019.)

Locke described his artistic journey as being concerned with a desire to give form and visibility to the unique contribution of Black culture to modern civilisation. He discussed the Black experience as follows: ‘Perhaps unique in the history of mankind, the Black man in the New World has been coerced in a harrowing agenda, the crossing of thousands of miles of cultural time in space of a few short generations. He has moved from captive African to slave, to free citizen of the New World, precariously clothed in a hybrid ethnicity, a “creole culture”.’ (Locke, ‘Artist’s Statement’, 2004, accessed 28 October 2019.) As Locke suggested, the range of different materials and stylistic approaches he adopted, and the different themes he explored in his work, can be discussed in terms of the hybridity and plurality of Black culture across the Americas and in terms of the contribution of different cultural strands, particularly the African component, to the plural character of modernity.

Further reading
Carl E. Hazlewood, Bending the Grid: Modernity, Identity and the Vernacular in the Work of Donald Locke, exhibition catalogue, Aljira, a Center for Contemporary Art, Newark, New Jersey 2004.
Video recording of a talk by Donald Locke at Skoto Gallery, New York 2008,, accessed 28 October 2019.
Donald Locke, Out of Anarchy: Five Decades of Ceramics and Hybrid Sculptures (1959–2009): The Work of Donald Locke, Newark 2011.

Elena Crippa
October 2019

Does this text contain inaccurate information or language that you feel we should improve or change? We would like to hear from you.

You might like