- Donald Locke 1930–2010
- Wax, hair and wood
- Object: 360 × 180 × 150 mm
- Lent by Tate Americas Foundation, courtesy of Timothy Griffith 2020
On long term loan
The Pork-Knocker Suite: Afro Leg 2003 is a sculpture by the Black British artist Donald Locke. It is sculpted in black wax and represents a lower leg and foot, topped by an Afro wig made of artificial hair, set on a square wooden base. 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). He started working with wax as early as 1972–3, when he was teaching at Chester School of Art in Cheshire, enjoying the way in which the material became softer and more malleable as his hands worked and warmed it. Pork Knockers is the series title of a number of works Locke made in the early 2000s. ‘Pork Knockers’ refers to the gold prospectors of Locke’s native Guyana, part of the country’s national identity and about whom many tales are told. Locke’s own father earned the nick-name ‘Dunnamite Dan’ for his prospecting exploits. The sculpture seems to combine the extreme counterbalance of a ballet sculpture by the French nineteenth-century artist Edgar Degas (1834–1917) with the more contemporary motif of the Afro hairstyle, creating a work exemplary of the heterodox discourse of modernity as a shared terrain of cultural and artistic production that Locke contributed to establishing. The work also has a surrealist streak typical of many of Locke’s works. Afro Leg was exhibited in Locke’s solo exhibition at Aljira Center for Contemporary Art, Newark in 2004 and in his solo exhibition Pork Knocker Dreams: Recent work by Donald Locke at New Art Exchange, Nottingham in 2010.
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.
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