Lana Locke is a London-based sculptor, whose work is currently on show at ‘ex-cavate-site-one’ at Schwartz Gallery in Hackney Wick, and in the next few months will be part of Bloomberg New Contemporaries (opening in at Spike Island, Bristol, and the ICA in London). We talked to her about her favourite muses, cities, and artists, as well as her fascination with the human body, decaying objects, and the relationships between people and their environments.
Art Wednesday: You grew up in London and are based there now, do you think that environment has informed and influenced your work (and how)? Would you be interested in living elsewhere, at any point in your career?
Lana Locke: I was fiercely proud of being from London from a very young age, but my parents then moved twice – first to Somerset and then to Australia, so I think that separation from the city I loved influenced me to be even more attached to it and more determined to be here. On the one hand it is about the cultural influence of other artists and the need to be in London to see everything that is going on in contemporary art and be part of it. Then on a more physical level, what you can see in my work is the grubbiness and trashiness of the environment, and the mix of natural and man made materials, raw finishes and occasional flashes of bright colour. The bravado of my work must come partly from being in London. The only other place I really think about living is New York, although the art scene in LA has got more interesting in recent years and I know you can get bigger studio space there!
AW: The human body, both inner organs and outer physique, has inspired some beautiful sculptures. When did this fascination with the body begin?
LL: In my late teens when I was making my earliest sculptures it was particularly birth that interested me, drilled down to a very biological level with sculptures of foetuses and brightly coloured cell structures. I’m not sure where it came from – I would hesitate to say it comes from being a woman but that may be part of it. Having 7 siblings (5 of them younger) may have played a part in this fascination too! Then I suppose for the next 10 years I was more interested in the outer body – first in a naturalistic way and then in how I could make that abstract – and now I feel like I have come full circle to use objects to express more of the biological, decaying, mortal nature of the body. Occasionally there is a cross-over, for example in some of the self-portraits in the photobook I made last year Untitled 2011-12, where I am using the image of my own body, but then referencing monstrous, decaying female organs using pumpkins, melons and trash.
AW: One of those artworks is the well-known Two Figures (2008), in the outdoor terrace in The Ivy. (And where we first met.) Can you explain the meaning of this piece, as you have, we’re sure, on many occasions on that very terrace?
LL: It very much came from the “couples” series that I was working on at that time. As with all those couples, it was based on actual people (the lines of form came from a polaroid of myself and another person), but making them abstract I have censored everything about them. On a simple level, it is about two people being in contact, but the unison is not complete. The geometric splicing of the forms means they will never be fully joined up. Then there’s this gaping hole between them – emphasised by the use of the sculpture to house a cigarette bin – so there is a darkness that they share and keep hidden between them too. I like the fact that the Evening Standard put the sculpture and terrace on their list of London’s sexiest places… for illicit liaisons, because the origin of the figures had something of that about them.
AW: Your bronze sculptures, including The Ram (2007), Angel (2006 – 8) and Flamenco Dancer (2007 – 8) remind us of Degas’ ballerinas, and of course Rodin – did these artists influence your work at all (intentionally)? Who else do you count as having inspired you?
LL: Yes, I loved both artists! The energy, movement and vitality… I went through a very romantic period in my early twenties when I wasn’t ready to think about contemporary art and was very wrapped up in just studying the human figure and learning to grapple with that before allowing things to get weirder again. Starting from that basis I came to new sources of inspiration as I was ready to – from Rodin, Giacometti and Degas, it then went on to Brancusi and Picasso and to an extent the Surrealists, then fairly logically to Louise Bourgeois, before coming back to the contemporary world and Sarah Lucas, who had influenced me before as a teenager. Then it widened to other artists working with objects, from Joseph Beuys to Paul McCarthy, Urs Fischer, Alexandra Bircken, as well as photographers like Francesca Woodman and Nan Goldin.
AW: Aside from artists, who else has influenced you as an artist?
LL: So many writers, film-makers and musicians! To name one, the filmmaker Nicolas Roeg, who I met and became friends with in 1999 through the photographer Michael Woods. I made some sculptures of foetuses for his film Puffball in 2006, which referenced a dark, monstrous female, biologically driven world that my work inhabits too. I would count Nic’s film Bad Timing as my favourite ever film and have a strong affinity with that sense of rawness, sexuality and horror in the everyday. It was such an enormous honour when Nic unveiled my sculpture at Harefield Hospital in 2010.
AW: Do you believe in having a muse (or several?)
LL: I’m not sure right now! I certainly used to. All of my series of reclining figures and couples from a few years ago were based on people in my own life, often romantic. When my new work references my current relationship (with the filmmaker Toby Paton) it is less direct, as my work is based so much around objects at the moment. I certainly believe that being with someone new can influence you to work in a new way, and that can be hugely important. It has been said with Picasso that a new woman would herald a new style of work, and meeting Toby two years ago definitely heralded a new way of working for me.
AW: Which project (or sculpture) have you enjoyed working on the most so far?
LL: My MA final show at Chelsea College of Art was a riot! I had almost a whole room to myself and really let loose in it. The encouragement to create a clean space and paint the walls white and the floors grey had filled me with great resistance. Instead I used red paint to circle and highlight all the blemishes in the walls, on the windows and on the floor – like architectural wounds – pouring it from the tin into craters in the floor and then cycling through it and round the room. I relished in the decaying objects and grimy images I brought in, and being as excessive as I wished to be. I loved being in the environment I had created.
AW: Tell us about your current projects, and what you have in mind for the near future?
LL: I am in a group exhibition at the moment called ex-ca-vate-site-one at Schwartz Gallery in Hackney Wick (open until 8 September) that explores the relationship between finished works and those found in the artists’ studios. I am starting a practice-based PhD at Chelsea College of Art and Design in October, sponsored by Chelsea Arts Club Trust on Antagonistic space and the creative and destructive mobilisation of objects. I am looking at how an installed object or set of objects can transgress the political and commercial terms of engagement of its environment and assert its own antagonistic agenda in the space. I am thinking in terms of work outside the exhibition space too – for example my project earlier in the year using text and objects to protest a local London pub being turned into a Tesco supermarket and posting them on my Tumblr photo-blog, or more recently a similar protest I am making to the artists’ studios I work in being closed to be demolished and replaced by an Academy school. I am also looking forward to Bloomberg New Contemporaries opening in at Spike Island, Bristol in September and the ICA, London in November.