Now/here: Interview with Sam Lock
This September Cadogan Contemporary presents Now/here, the largest solo presentation to date from acclaimed British artist Sam Lock. The artist’s third exhibition with the gallery, Now/here will display fifteen medium- and large-scale paintings, sculpture and a suite of works on paper showcasing Lock’s visceral style.
Lock envisages each work as a battleground, his materials at war with one another. Techniques involving blowtorches, electric sanders, club hammers – and even spraying nitrate – achieve extraordinary effects. Through a repeated process of building and destruction, collisions between materials are to some extent orchestrated, but there is also a pervading element of chance and unpredictability, with paint colours changing hue under unplanned, chemical reactions.
At its core, Lock’s work conveys the passage of time – colours, movement, half-recalled or uncertain places. He sees each of his paintings as having a character; one which he explores through his intuitive process, between layers of media and the tensions they create.
In anticipation of Now/here, I caught up with the artist to discuss in detail his practice as well as the upcoming exhibition.
How did you become involved in creating art?
I was always made to feel, by my family, that the imagination was magical – and that art was powerful and important. It makes the world different in some way; it is positive and communicative, in a world that has such negativity within it. I have always been drawn to the idea that an artistic direction in life can redress in some way the blankness and dumbing down of the world. It makes me have better conversations with my kids, show them beautiful stuff – interesting, inspiring and challenging ways of seeing and thinking. The imagination is our most powerful tool and if we use it, we grow and expand. By making things and showing them to other people we connect, we turn ourselves into companions and collaborators. And this is where the unexpected and unseen exists and the world becomes more interesting.
Can you tell us about your upcoming exhibition Now/here?
This show marks an important point for me and also Cadogan Contemporary, who have been there since the beginning for me. It is our third show together and there is a certainty and solidity to the works that has grown over the last year. The voice of the work is less faltering, less ambiguous and the show is held together by more substantial threads and common ideas such as the passage of time or the Harold Pinter idea that underneath what is being said, something else is being said. These works explore the overlapping of past and present, a sense of travelling with no clear destination.
How would you describe your artistic practice?
Perhaps my work is characterised most interestingly as a behaviour, exploring a process of making that reminds the viewer of visual interpretations while focussing on the act of looking and connecting. My practice is driven by change and chance, unplanned directions, a belief in the power and poignancy of the unexpected. I like vanished things, accidents on purpose, heading nowhere and suddenly finding somewhere I didn’t know existed.
Do you consider yourself an exponent of ‘process art’?
In some ways, but the term also suggests a lack of the poetic, which for me is the point of the process. There is something inherently poignant about the painting process, maps of lost moments found. Time always flies past, it is elusive – I try to become aware of this movement when working. The colours and marks in my work always seems to be shifting. I like vanished things. Painting is a kind of mapping of the here and now which is vanishing continuously. I am always losing something in painting, I lose other futures and moments. Destinations are lost as others are arrived at. These works are presences and absences at that same time.
You refer to your sculptures as ‘containers of energy’, to what extent are they similar or distinct from your paintings?
The materials have a resilience that makes you work harder. They are absorbent and bounce back at you. As a painter they are important signposts towards an understanding of physical space and presence, the gravity of form, the weight of the marks we make. After working with metal or clay or plaster it is really difficult to make a tame or weak or tentative painting. The ideal for me is to produce a painting with the power and physicality of a sculpture, and a sculpture with the tension and fragility of a painting on canvas.
What is a typical day (or night) in the studio like for you?
My days are long and fuelled by coffee and music. I have a real work ethic and an energy for this after many years working as a teacher and putting my own practice second. It feels like it now has perpetual motion; that the energy is constantly refilling itself and making me make new work. Some days are like fast flowing water, some are stuttering and staccato, some are backbreaking, some are cloud nine. I love all sides of it and recognise the privilege it is to spend my time in this way. I don’t see it as a job at all – it is more of a compulsion, like not being able to stop singing.
Could you share with us some further details regarding your recent painting named ‘Flight time’ (2019)?
This particular work is a keystone painting within this exhibition, but also in a wider sense. It seems to embody a process of stripping things back, realising what is essential and important. For the last year I have been having an ongoing conversation with myself to find out what I no longer need. The gesture in this painting is both simple and complex at the same time, poetic and powerful in the same moment. There is already a new body of work emerging and developing in the studio because of this painting. . . but that is for another time.
What do you hope audiences will take from your work?
The whole reason for making these paintings or sculptures is to engage with other people, to make them into companions. Each work is a situation – a set of positions, bearings and directions that influences the ways in which we look or interpret. Underneath what is being said, something else is being said – a language of undercurrents to be felt and sensed rather than read, based on intrigues and whispers. These hooks slow down the way we look at paintings, extending the experience of perception, until looking becomes a different connection. The best paintings I think, nurture you from looking, into feeling.
Now/here is showing at Cadogan Contemporary from 9–27 September 2019.
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