Locke is the eldest son of Guyanese sculptor Donald Locke (1930–2010) and British painter Leila Chaplin (d. 1992). He spent his formative years (1966 to 1980) in Georgetown, Guyana, before returning to the UK to study. He received a B.A. Fine Art in 1988 from Falmouth University, and an M.A. Sculpture from the Royal College of Art, London in 1994. In 1995 he married curator Indra Khanna. He is represented by Hales Gallery, London.
Locke first came to national attention in 2000 when he won both a Paul Hamlyn Award and the EASTinternational Award and installed Hemmed In Two as part of the contemporary arts programme at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. This was followed by the creation of Cardboard Palace, a major new installation for his solo show at the Chisenhale Gallery, London (2002).
Since then, he has exhibited widely, with solo shows at venues including Luckman Gallery, California State University (2004), The Atlanta Contemporary Art Center, USA (2004), The New Art Gallery Walsall (2005), Rivington Place, London (2008), ArtSway, Hampshire (2011), Kunsthal KAdE, Amersfoort, the Netherlands (2011) and Hales Gallery, London (2005, 2008, 2010, 2014). His works are included in major group shows, such as Glasstress White Light/White Heat, Palazzo Cavalli Franchetti, Venice (2013), The Shadows took Shape, Studio Museum in Harlem, New York (2014), Holy Toy Sølvberget Galleri, Stavanger, Norway (2010), The 2nd Thessaloniki Biennale of Contemporary Art, Greece (2009), South South Justina M. Barnincke Gallery, University of Toronto, Canada (2009), Infinite Island: Contemporary Caribbean Art Brooklyn Museum, USA (2007), British Art Show 6 BALTIC Gateshead (2005) and Barrocos y Neobarrocos Salamanca, Spain (2005).
In Britain these include The Government Art Collection, The Tate Gallery, The Arts Council England, The Victoria and Albert Museum, The British Museum, The New Art Gallery Walsall and The Henry Moore Institute. In the USA they include The Collection of Eileen and Peter Norton, Santa Monica, The Brooklyn Museum and The Arnold Lehman Collection, New York, The Pérez Art Museum Miami, and The Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City.
His first performance piece Give and Take was presented at The Tate Turbine Hall (2014). Temporary installations include King Creole (2004), commissioned by the BBC for the launch of their New Media Village building, subsequently hung on the façade of Tate Britain (produced using a 4m high steel frame and thousands of plastic flowers and tinsel), and For those in Peril on the Sea (2011), commissioned as part of the Folkestone Triennial and installed in the Church of St Mary & St Eanswythe (consisted of a 'fleet' of customised model boats suspended above the nave). Permanent installations include Ruined (2010), ten 1.75m cast-iron markers in Brunswick Square Cemetery Gardens, Bristol, and Selene (2013), a bronze figure on the façade of the Nadler Soho Hotel, Carlilse Street, London.
Works and themes
Locke uses a wide range of media, including painting, drawing, photography, relief, fabric, sculpture and casting, and makes extensive use of found objects and collage. He has demonstrated an especial interest in working around sites and ideas with a historical resonance. He has cited architecture ranging from the Baroque, Rajput, Islamic, and Caribbean vernacular to Victorian Funfairs as influences. Recurrent themes and imagery include visual expressions of power, trophies, globalisation, movement of peoples, the creation of cultures, ships and boats, and packaging.
Locke felt dogged in his early career by misreadings of his work. "It was seen as being from a folk tradition, not as being of its own tradition, true to itself - as art basically...I stopped making work in colour for three years, I just dropped it."
Curator Kris Kuramitsu wrote of the genesis of Hemmed In Two and Cardboard Palace: "Frustrated by the fact that his biography so heavily over-determines the reading of his work, he created a series of sculptures in which he used cardboard to preemptively package the work for the viewer. This move was revelatory for Locke's practice, as through this material he could metonymically address migration, international economics, globalisation and ideas about personal and cultural protection and projection."
Locke continued: "Then I started making fake Voodoo dolls: basically fake exotica. And that developed into the 'voodoo' Royal Family. I started to have fun with that question that all through the 90s had really annoyed me: 'Where do you come from?' i.e. 'You're not one of us. What are you?'"
His ongoing series House of Windsor began as portraits of members of the British royal family, but now exclusively uses a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II for a symbolic framework. He has stated "My feelings about the Royal Family are ambivalent. I am simply fascinated by the institution and its relationship to the press and public. My political position is neither republican nor monarchist."
Locke's investigation in the display of Power has expanded into new areas such as royal and swagger portraiture, coats-of-arms, public statuary, trophies, masculinity, company share certificates, weaponry and costume. He states: "This ...(is) essentially about Power – who had it, who has it and who desires it."
Impossible Proposals is an overarching title for series of works related to public statuary that include Natives and Colonials, Restoration and Sikandar. "It started as a proposal to get a statue-dressing project off the ground. Nobody was willing to take this project up, so the proposals...became the artwork...things I would never be allowed to do."
Prof. Ingrid von Rosenberg has written - "(Black) Artists who continue to produce work with a critical message, like Yinka Shonibare and Hew Locke, avoid the open confrontation typical of the 1980s and instead use humour and satire, positioning themselves as cultural insiders, rather than excluded outsiders."
- Diana Cooper Hew Locke, London, The Drawing Room, 2004, ISBN 0-9542668-2-X
- Hew Locke, Walsall, The New Art Gallery Walsall, 2005, ISBN 0-946652-77-5
- How Do You Want Me?, Paris, Editions Janninck, 2009, ISBN 978-2-916067-41-4
- Stranger in Paradise, London, Black Dog Publishing Ltd, 2011, ISBN 978-1-907317-38-9'
- Marcus Verhagen, "King of Clutter", Contemporary, issue 73, 2005.
- Jon Wood, "Photography, painting and impossible sculpture: Hew Locke's 'Natives and Colonials'", Sculpture Journal, volume 15.2, 2006.
- Pernilla Holmes, "Swords, Lizards and the Queen", ARTnews, October 2007.
- Ingrid von Rosenberg, "Transformations of Western Icons in Black British Art" Journal for the Study of British Culture, Vol. 15/1, 2008.
- Ben Luke, "Hew Locke", Art World, April/May 2008.
- Hew Locke in conversation with Richard West, Source, issue 55, summer 2008.
- Shan Peng, exhibition review of "Kingdom of the Blind", Art Monthly, October 2008.
- Barry Schwabsky, exhibition review of "The Nameless", Artforum, December 2010.
- Kobena Mercer, "Hew Locke's Post Colonial Baroque", Small Axe, issue 34, March 2011.
- Elizabeth Fullerton, "Every Toy Jaguar Has It's Place", ARTnews, April 2014.
- Hew Locke website, retrieved 2011
- Prisoners of the Sun: A conversation with Hew Locke and Prof. Kobena Mercer, University of Miami, retrieved 2014
- Hew Locke archive page, Iniva, retrieved 2011
- Donald Locke website, retrieved 2011
- Indra Khanna website, retrieved 2011
- Tate: Meet the Artist: Hew Locke The artist talks about his piece The Nameless. 28 September 2010
- BP Artists Talk: Hew Locke, in conversation with Marcus Verhagen, Tate Britain, 25.03.2009, retrieved 7 August 2014
- "Sculptor Donald Locke passes away" Stabroek News, 07/12/2011, retrieved 2011 
- Duff, L & Sawdon, P: Drawing - the Purpose, Intellect Ltd, 2008
- Hew Locke website, retrieved 2011
- Jonathan Jones, "Five Card Trick", The Guardian Weekend, 30/09/2000
- Review of "Cardboard Palace", Ellie Duffy, Building Design magazine, issue 1529, 29.02.2002.
- Review of "Cardboard Palace", Jonathan Jones, Contemporary magazine, June 2002, p. 160.
- Hew Locke in conversation with Richard West, Source magazine, issue 55, p. 9, summer 2008.
- Hew Locke, The New Art Gallery Walsall, 2005.
- Ingrid von Rosenberg, "Transformations of Western Icons in Black British Art", Journal for the Study of British Culture, Vol. 15/1, 2008.
- Jon Wood, "Photography, painting and impossible sculpture: Hew Locke's 'Natives and Colonials'", Sculpture Journal, vol. 15.2, p. 282, 2006.