- Donald Locke 1930–2010
- Acrylic paint, lithographs on paper, gelatin silver prints on paper, wood and tinted acrylic sheets, on canvas
- Support: 1120 × 1590 × 35 mm
overall: 1220 × 1682 × 107 mm
- Lent by Tate Americas Foundation, courtesy of Timothy Griffith 2020
On long term loan
Imperial Echoes 1992 is a large painting in acrylic paint on two canvases with added paper, wood and Perspex by the Black British artist Donald Locke. It is one of a number of large paintings the artist produced over a three-year period in the early 1990s, which build up layers of textured material and images, combining paint with photographs, cloth, wood, metal and found objects on canvas. Locke worked across a range of media and, while two-dimensional, these works are constructed with a sculptor’s sensibility. Locke incorporated into them photographic prints of his sculptural work alongside photographs from books, newspapers and periodicals that illustrated current social and political issues. In Imperial Echoes two separately stretched canvases, one square and one rectangular, are abutted within one frame so that the taller canvas is on the right-hand side. The centre of the painting is obscured by a dense area of dark painting with cloud-like edges. Across the composition found images are collaged. Sometimes these are themselves framed by and visible behind sections of Perspex, secured to the canvas; in other instances they are embedded under thin layers of diluted paint. Among the images used in Imperial Echoes are photographs of two bullet-shaped sculptures that are part of Locke’s large sculptural work Trophies of Empire 1972–4, also in Tate’s collection (Tate T14319); others show his bronze sculptures Ife Venus 1987 and The King and Queen c.1988, alongside a range of other images including a pistol and bullets, an athlete and a photographic portrait of Queen Victoria.
Despite a lifelong commitment to sculpture in a variety of mediums, painting remained an important activity for Locke and in 1989 he temporarily abandoned sculpture in favour of painting. Locke discussed his preoccupation with memories, clarifying that his work was not an illustration of specific things or events, but captured loose associations (talk by Donald Locke at Skoto Gallery, New York, 2008, accessed 28 October 2019). The curator Carl E. Hazlewood has discussed Locke’s paintings as a ‘matrix in which critical fragments of a transcultural self may exist simultaneously’ (in Aljira, a Center for Contemporary Art 2004, p.11). In Imperial Echoes the juxtaposition of images of British colonial rule and of firearms seems to address directly the role of the British Empire in seeding a lasting culture of violence and aggression in the Americas. The encasing of images within multiple framing registers is also reminiscent of Locke’s ongoing preoccupation with the structures of subjugation and exploitation under colonial rule, which he described as ‘systems whereby one group of people were kept in political and economical subjugation by another group’ (quoted in Aljira, a Center for Contemporary Art 2004, p.9).
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, https://www.skotogallery.com/viewer/home/donald.locke.release.asd, 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.
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, https://www.donaldlocke.com/publications-media/, 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.
Does this text contain inaccurate information or language that you feel we should improve or change? We would like to hear from you.