".. I want to have film of a surfer right at that point moving along constantly right at the edge of the tube. That position is the metaphor of life to me, the highly conscious life. That you think of the tube as being the past, and I’m an evolutionary agent, and what I try to do is to be at that point where you’re going into the future, but you have to keep in touch with the past ... there’s where you get the power; ... and sure you’re most helpless, but you also have most precise control at that moment." 1
In November 1886, a regional French newspaper reported the astonishment of several Breton fishermen, who had observed ‘a man, dressed like them... stubbornly painting, during the storm, upon canvases fixed to an easel lashed to the rocks with ropes.’2 The artist was Claude Monet, who in 1886 undertook a journey to Belle-Ile-en-Mer – a remote island off the coast of Brittany – where he painted a series of seascapes of its dramatic rock formations and wild churning waters that are emblematic of eighteenth and nineteenth century notions of the sublime. In the historical discourse of the sublime, the sea – with its capacity to inspire awe and terror – figures prominently and for Schopenhauer, for example, other natural phenomena paled beside the sheer intensity of the oceanic sublime.
The Monet episode echoes the legendary (separate) exploits of Joseph Vernet and J.M.W. Turner, who were driven to experience a storm at sea, whilst lashed to the mast of a ship. Exposure to the power of nature is even more direct and intense – perilous, yet also potentially exhilarating – for the surfer. ‘One of the great lessons that you learn in the ocean is that while you are totally insignificant to the total mass, you can survive in it by being part of it.’3
The subjective paintings of Christian Lock are predicated on a lifelong engagement with surfing and the associated paraphernalia of surf culture – surfboard production and surf art as well as comic books, films and surfing mythology. Two distinct strands – large acrylic works on canvas and the smaller surfboard paintings, in which expressive brushwork is contained within a sheath of clear, polished resin or (more lyrically) Lock’s ‘rolling waves of liquid glass’4 – have continued to evolve within his art practice. In utilising a variety of inventive techniques to ‘push liquid around to create forms’, Lock equates his visceral gestural markings with the swooping manoeuvres of the experienced surfer – referring to the surfboard as a ‘brush.’
Like Lock’s ongoing leitmotif of a seductive biomorphic (flower-like) form in One Sheet of Strawberry Fields, One Black Caravan, One Last Coffin Ride (2007), the black chrysalis-like, Surrealist-inspired motif of the large brooding, aubergine painting Out of Your Depths suggests the possibility of metamorphosis. These ambiguous hovering and mutable forms – also viewed by the artist as transitional spaces, as portals or thresholds (to transcendent experience) – reappear in more tranquil and cool (aqueous?) mode in George Greenough Versus Timothy Leary, wherein the introduction of fine brushwork accentuates a contrasting sense of the ethereal.
The impetus for the surfboard paintings came not only from Lock’s observation of techniques associated with the production of resin surfboards– notably the globules of oleaginous, amber-like resin streaked with traces of paint to be found in drips and clumps on the floor of the glasser’s bay – but also from a childhood preoccupation with marbles (habitually viewed in perpetual rolling motion). ‘I could stare for hours at the twisting strokes of pigment caught in their interiors. It was like looking at a moment caught in time. A frozen gesture that might just reactivate and start back in motion if you kept staring for long enough.’
Adopting a strategy of sampling and remixing as a fluid means ‘of developing aesthetic and conceptual frameworks’ (a methodology familiar from the work of contemporary electronic musicians), Lock’s luscious impasto brushstrokes on stark (unaltered), retina-dazzling holographic grounds – exhibited in 2003 at Greenaway Art Gallery – quoted from Lichtenstein’s brushstroke works, such as Yellow Brushstoke I (1965). Devoid however of Lichtenstein’s satirical intent and with characteristically charismatic titles such as Poison Apples for Longing Lovers or Too Good to Tango With the Poor Boys, they effectively represented a joyous valorisation of the gestural brushstroke.
For Lock these optically assertive paintings also indicated a satisfying synthesis or hybrid of the organic gesture, a digitalised electronic version of the modernist grid and a smooth flawlessness of surface – a straddling therefore (rather than a collision) of organicist and mechanicist modes of abstraction. Although it must be noted that the holographic grids – electrifying in their brilliant, ever-fluctuating hues – did appear to hover on the precipice of chaos. The holographic material is also of course, a readymade and in his 2003 Mellon series of lectures, Kirk Varnedoe noted the significance of such unexpected hybrids – of the blending of ‘strains from seemingly opposite camps’ – in the forging of ‘important new artistic1 languages.’5
1. Timothy Leary, ‘The Evolutionary Surfer’, interview with Steve Pezman, SURFER, Jan. 1978
2. Steven Levine, ‘Seascapes of the Sublime: Vernet, Monet and the Oceanic Feeling’, New Literary History, 1985, p. 380
3.Steve Pezman, ‘The Evolutionary Surfer’, SURFER, Jan. 1978
4. All Christian Lock quotes (henceforth unnumbered) are from 2007 interviews with Wendy Walker
5. Kirk Varnedoe, Pictures of Nothing, Princeton and Oxford: Princeton Uni Press, 2003, p. 7. Varnedoe is referring to the (historical) overlapping and blending of strains from the seemingly opposite camps of Johns and Pollock, or Picasso and Duchamp.
6. For Anthony Haden-Guest the monochrome painting was ‘the great Modernist icon of the sublime, involving Burke’s privations in the fact that all detail and differentiation has disappeared from the world of vision.’ Lock proposes a contemporary ‘fictitious model of the techno-sublime that incorporates the gesture.’
Anthony Haden-Guest in Sticky Sublime, Bill Beckley (ed), NY, Allworth Press, 2001, p. 72
7 Cited in Gabriel Ramin Schor, ‘Black Moods’, the Latin title is Utriusque cosmi, maioris scilicet et minoris, metaphysica, physica, atque technica historia http:// www.tate.org.uk/tateetc/issue7/blackmoods.htm