Three sections taken from a seven-part text, written for the book ‘Temporary’, published by Cadogan Contemporary, London, March 2021.

1/ In Sam Lock’s studio there is an oval mirror, eight inches wide and a little over a foot long, and thinly edged in silvery metal. It lies face-up, balanced a couple of feet off the floor on an old rusted axle rest which belonged to the artist’s late father, so that if forms a little table. On its surface are four tiny grey model battleships. Reflected with them in the mirror’s surface is the white of a large canvas that hangs on the wall behind it; the ships seem to float above its whiteness. The artist says that he likes the way the mirror: ‘drags the world into itself’, an idea that leads one to imagine that it might have some kind of supernatural power to draw us into its depths, as though in a mythological fable. Lock is fully cognizant of the symbolic potential of mirrors, and of their inherent duality; the way in which a mirror presents to us an image of the world in reverse, whilst acting also as mute witness to presence, absence, and the passage of time. And all of these themes, fundamental to Lock’s work, are encoded in this assemblage of objects, with its impromptu air.

3/ Given the nature of Lock’s work, with its lexicon of abstract signs, it is perhaps unsurprising to learn of his fascination with the capabilities and parameters of written language. In discussion he cites his great admiration for the dramatic works of Beckett and Pinter. He describes his interest in the way the force of their writing depends not only upon what is said, but also from its deployment of silences, of that which goes unspoken, both within and between the elliptical lines of their monologues and dialogues. Both Beckett and Pinter were deeply informed by the existentialism of the post-WWII world, a philosophical enquiry that raised urgent questions about the nature of humanity, of alienation and identity, all of which form an underlying current in their work. And one sees how Lock has himself taken up these notions of the ambiguity of meaning and silence within his own painterly language, in an ongoing exploration of the ways in which mark and interval might be iterated on canvas and paper. Compositionally, his paintings range from works of great spatial and textural complexity, to those of minimalist restraint, indicative of his understanding of the power of understatement. Such moderation applies also to a palette in which whites and blacks often predominate, their expressive potential given full rein. There are also blues, amongst them a woad-like indigo, and greenish blues reminiscent of verdigris, sometimes glazed thinly in dark umber so that they take on the patina of antique bronze.

7/ The themes of language, time, presence and absence are encapsulated in an ongoing series of works that Lock has made on the inside covers and title pages taken from discarded books. Amongst these found volumes are some dated from the nineteenth century, bearing inscriptions and dedications, carefully written in copperplate script by those now long departed. Others have lines of type, set in metal galleys and printed as headings or subheadings. The substrates often show signs of age, in mottled foxing, scuffmarks and minor tears, themselves eloquent of human usage and the passage of time. The artist’s additions, in graphite, oil pastel, ink or paint, join forces with these existing marks and texts, in a form of joint authorship that links past with present. Lock might add very little; a scattering of gnomic signs perhaps, akin to some kind of automatic writing.  Alternatively he might put down blocks of colour or densely scrawled lines that cover all or most of the surface, entombing what lies beneath. There are occasional punctuations and anchor points made from fragments of paper collage or splodges of pigment, the likes of which are also often found in the artist’s canvases. These drawings, much smaller than the paintings, allow for a shift of gear, in which marks are made from the wrist as opposed to a sweep of the arm. And they commune, not only with the past but also with the larger work as it continues to develop in the studio.

Text © Ian Massey 2021

Image: Sam Lock, ‘Blanche Osborne, from her mother 1850’, Sequence of 8 miniatures, mixed media on found book covers (2020). © The artist

Photograph © Jean-Luc Brouard

Posted in: Essays