In “6 Artists Turning Beads into Spellbinding Works of Art,” Ariela Gittlen (Artsy) writes about diverse cultures have rich beadwork traditions, featuring artists working in the United States and the United Kingdom; one of these is Anglo-Guyanese artist Hew Locke. Here are excerpts:
Locke first began to incorporate strings of beads into his work after seeing the frayed tapestries on the walls of once-stately European homes. Their dangling threads especially interested him. “In [my] wall drawings, the beads act as equivalents to broken threads,” he says. “The shape of the shadows cast by the beads is very important, animating and enlivening them.”
Sea Power (2014), a wall drawing commissioned for the Kochi-Muziris Biennale in Kochi, India, is a haunting composition of cord and plastic beads, which Locke uses to create lines, rather than surfaces or volumes. Huge figures, some resembling the figure of Death himself, stand astride ships old and new. Strings of beads hang down, like trails of dripping paint.
“Quite often in my work the beads have symbolized water or tropical decay, dripping and oozing,” Locke acknowledges. “Many Guyanese artists reference Kaieteur Falls, a national symbol. For me, beads hanging down in a sheet evoke the falls.” (Locke was born in Edinborough and lived in Guyana from 1966 to 1980.)
Locke’s use of cheap plastic beads, which he first found in discount stores and Halloween costume shops, has a social dimension. “Beads sometimes mimic expensive materials, such as gold and pearls,” he says. “I like the idea of elevating this ‘poor’ material to the status of high art.”
[Image above: ‘Dust to Dust 5’, 2007, h 90, w 46, d 43cm. Courtesy of the artist.]