‘Hew Locke: House of Cards’ featured a selection of the artist's portraits of British royalty in various media, and his response to other trappings of the monarchy and empire. The show included works previously exhibited at the Luckman Gallery, Los Angeles, in tandem with a newly commissioned coat of arms, and other recent works.
Locke draws from everyday sources, ranging from items found in London's Brixton Market to discount fabric shops and thrift stores. Other sources of inspiration include Islamic, Rococo and Medieval architecture, royalty ephemera, Victorian funfairs and carousels. Using cardboard as the basis for much of his art, Locke draws attention to how artists and their works are packaged and commodified according to presumed geopolitical identities and affiliations. The exhibition reflected Locke’s long involvement with notions of hybrid and invented culture,how post-colonial societies evolve and invent themselves, and select their symbols of nationhood.
Exhibited works included five large 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) resemble facial topographies, painstakingly adorned with minutiae befitting royal subject matter, while hinting at something more ominous.
Passport Culture references the Queen’s Coat of Arms (depicted on every British passport). Constructed in layers, a pen drawing on Locke's 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 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.
For the Contemporary, Locke made a new wall-based coat of arms of his own invention, constructed from rope and sequin waste, that spoke to the idea that “commoners may also aspire to the opulence of heraldry.
The exhibition was accompanied by a publication with a commissioned essay by artist and critic Gean Moreno which reflected on the “unflagging ambiguity” of Locke’s art. Asking “Where are his explicit politics? Where are his rage and loathing? Or conversely, where are his cool-headed anthropology or sociology?,” Moreno concluded that “incompleteness always conveys something” and that “the work challenges those blind to the need for multiple perspectives."