David Lock is a London-based painter. His work addresses a contemporary take on masculinities and investigates a multitude of subject positions, shifting identification from one fragment to another. His paintings resist a single reading or viewpoint, instead, any reading of the portrait is unmoored, fluid and contingent. Lock’s motivations for the use of the male expose an underlying uncertainty about the male’s status in contemporary culture and the role he should fulfil within it. His work is in many collections, including the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, and Soho House.
Can you tell us a bit about your background and your art practice?
I’m originally from Leicester. I’m a painter primarily and I also make collage and wall-based installations.
Did you always know that you wanted to be an artist? How did you start out?
Not really, I always loved art but I originally trained as a hairdresser. I then had a serious accident which left me paralysed. I went back to college to complete an art foundation course and went on to Reading University in the UK to study a BA in fine art and then an MA at Goldsmiths, which brought me to London, where I’m still based.
Where is your studio located and how does a typical day in your studio begin?
My studio is in Mile End, east London. I share it with my partner. I’m not an early bird. I tend to get there around midday and then work until 7-8pm. I try to work methodically day to day on one painting at a time. I check over and evaluate what I’ve done the day before and figure out what I’m going to do with the painting. That first insight at the beginning of the day, your thoughts are so fresh. It’s the clearest moment before you get caught up in the day’s painting activity.
Do you remember the first art material you used? What was it and do you still use it today?
I remember being bought felt tip pens that would come in a long plastic packet with all the spectrum laid out like a rainbow. I used to love them. I don’t use felt pens so much now. I did buy a pack of coloured pencils recently and I have oil pastels that I want to start using again, but I just get so caught up in watercolours and oils!
Can you tell us when you began to use collage in your practice and how that came about?
I’d buy all these men’s fashion magazines and I’d trace images from them onto acetate and treat the magazine itself almost reverentially. I started tearing up the pictures as it was much more direct. It made more sense to “rework” figures that way.
Where does your source material come from?
The source material can really come from anywhere. I don’t work from life and that’s a conscious decision. If the image is interesting to me, I’ll use it. In the last couple of years, I’ve been making more direct, singular paintings, which are not collaged. I love that quote from Marlene Dumas on the use of secondary sources. She said: “I use secondhand images and firsthand emotions.” That quote is so powerful; it and her work mean a lot to me.
Are the people in your portraits friends or are they anonymous? Does knowing/not knowing your sitter impact the way you work?
My paintings are about masculinities and how they are depicted in contemporary society. I’m really interested in what constitutes as the “ideal” in terms of masculinities or the “dominant imprint”, as one of my favourite writers, Jose Esteban Munoz, would say. Fashion magazines exemplify this, as they’re about desire and attainment, so as a painter it’s interesting to play with those tropes and undermine them.
You created a set for Candoco’s 20th anniversary season ‘Turning 20’, in association with Trisha Brown Dance Company. How was this experience?
It was such a wonderful opportunity. To create the set, I had to keep to Robert Rauschenberg’s original parameters when he first created his set for Trisha Brown in 1985. These were for it to be transparent, abstract, layered and monochromatic. At first, it was a challenge for me, as I’d rarely worked this way. It went through many edits before I settled on the end design. Then to see the process emerge from my small watercolours scanned and then made into large hanging 12 foot works in an auditorium was exciting. It was also a privilege to be invited by Candoco to undertake the commission. I had been a dancer myself with them in the early 00’s following my Goldsmiths MA, so it was lovely returning to them in a fine art capacity, having already learnt so much from them.
You’ve been in the John Moores Painting Prize 2018 (arguably the biggest UK prize for painting) and the Creekside Open 2019. How have these experiences helped your career?
Yes, it was a great to be in the John Moores 2018. I’d applied many times and never got through so it felt like the hard work was paying off. At the end of its run, I was thrilled when the Walker Art Gallery purchased my painting ‘El Muniria’. They only bought two paintings that year from the John Moores, as well as the first prizewinner which they always do. So that was an honour as it’s one of the most important collections in the UK. I also made connections with some of the other exhibiting artists, such as Graham Martin, who I invited to show with me in the exhibition ‘Burra and Friends’, which I recently curated at Rye Art Gallery in the UK. Getting into the John Moores and the Creekside Open, they just buoy you up. You need those breaks as an artist to keep you going, as they don’t come around that often.
Do you have a favourite art material – what is it and why is it your favourite?
Not a particular favourite material, more pigments. I absolutely love Permanent Rose as a pigment (PV19). it has a lovely mass tone and I love the flesh tones I can create with it. I love mixing with it too. I think it will always be on my palette.
What was the best piece of advice you were ever given?
My professor on my MA, Nick De Ville said: “Don’t compromise on your art, as life in many ways is a compromise, so just make your art communicate clearly.” It was the best advice for me.
Do you have one piece of advice to share with an artist just starting out?
Keep things simple, as much as you can. If you want to paint, learn the value of a limited palette. Painting should be fun; the hard part is knowing what to paint, so don’t use too many pigments or you’ll just get confused.
What are you listening to in your studio these days?
I listen to all sorts and many days just silence too. Mainly Spotify on my iPhone and recently Emma Cousin’s brilliant podcast with other artists. She’s great and I’ve enjoyed them.
Are there any current or upcoming projects that you are happy to share with us?
I’ve just made the shortlist for the Dentons Art Prize 10, which I’m really excited about. I also currently have two works on paper in the group show ‘A Generous Space’, currently on at Hastings Contemporary in the UK. It’s the Artist Support Pledge exhibition, so all the works in the show are for £200 or less.
All images courtesy of the artist, click here to see more of Lock’s work.