Christian Lock’s recent works take us on a speculative journey. We see pearlescent biomorphic forms floating across fields of black abstract patterns on plastic. The materials appear animated, with the plastic draped loosely over exposed timber stretchers. At first the eye travels with some uncertainty and enters a kind of perspectival tug of war between seemingly disparate forms and surfaces. But slowly we notice Lock has poetically tempered chaos with control.
Lock is relentlessly engaged with testing the limits of the painting process. He works like an alchemist open to the transmutation and magic that occurs through the manipulation of matter. At the core of his creative process is an experimental procedure. Lock creates ‘paint skins’: brush strokes of varying sizes and shapes applied to sheets of plastic, which are later removed and reapplied. These skins become interchangeable parts that are systematically arranged on the studio floor like collage. Through this process Lock works counter-intuitively in what he considers to be a higher state of consciousness, guided by the tonalities and rhythm of his materials.
His approach combines formal control and free-flowing randomness to find pictorial balance. The surfaces are reminiscent of the control of hard-edge abstraction and the spontaneity of abstract expressionism. The systematic and precise abstract patterns are balanced with their spontaneous and gestural counterparts to achieve an image of structure and spatial depth. The geometric patterns flatten the pictorial surface while the swirling gestures allude to a deep abyss. Flat solid coloured shapes are sparingly placed over the top of a monochromatic base to further enliven the scene. Their shallow depth of field is confronting – as Andrew Frost has noted, they disturb the illusion of infinite space ‘like a sticker placed over a photo’1.
The rest of the palette appears mystical and meditative, entering the realm of the artificial and psychedelic. The monochromatic layers created through digital scanning processes have a ghostly presence, like X-rays of the human body, film negatives or storm clouds. This dark palette is not new to Lock: in 2003 he completed a series of paintings featuring holographic stickers with black synthetic polymer paint, highlighting the play between the visible and the void. Lock embraces the luminescent qualities of black when placed against vibrant colour, and seems to share a view similar to Kandinsky who regarded black to be leading an existence away from that of simple colour.
Lock’s paintings are no longer content to rest flat on a wall and instead occupy three-dimensional space. He is revisiting the late 1960s modernist exploration of ‘painting in space’. However, rather than reshaping or eliminating the frame, Lock takes on the rectangle by exposing, overflowing or displacing it. In some cases the stretcher even becomes a compositional device. By these means Lock separates the basic elements that typically hold a painting together: the stretcher and the canvas.
Plastic is introduced as the binding material. In his 1957 classic essay ‘Plastic’, Roland Barthes observed that plastic is ‘more than a substance, plastic is the very idea of its infinite transformation… it is less a thing than the trace of a movement’2. In line with Barthes’ view, Lock hasn’t fixed his plastic into a final state but has chosen to leave the material open to change and manipulation. He has previously said that his works ‘allow one to see oneself slowly morphing and changing along with them, making each viewer aware of the self’s potential to change and flow’3. One wonders if Lock aims to manipulate the mind as he does matter, revealing them both as infinitely malleable.
Perhaps the most engaging aspect of these works is how the ethereal properties of the materials shift with the conditions of perception. The holographic paper and glitter,4 for instance, reflect the surrounding hues and appear to change depending on where the viewer is standing. Likewise the plastic layers reflect external light and require the viewer to move to see beyond their own reflection. It is as if the works demonstrate the synthetic character of a hallucinatory state and engage with the late 1960s ideas of psychedelia. In The politics of ecstasy, 1968, psychologist Timothy Leary famously promoted LSD consciousness, describing it as a state of flux and elation that could release the mind from the illusions of conventional consciousness and provide access to the expansive realms of the ‘Mind at Large’5. While hallucinogenic drugs are not the impetus for Lock’s work, he expresses a similar desire to expand consciousness. He urges us to follow an unknown path into transcendence and quite simply ‘go with the flow’.
1- Andrew Frost, untitled essay, Christian Lock website, 29 September 2013, http://www.christianlock.com/about-2/
2- Roland Barthes, 'Plastic', in Mythologies, trans. Annette Lavers (New York: The Noonday Press, 1972), p.97
4- These materials stem from Lock’s background in surf culture, but he has explained recently that ‘surfing is no longer the major force behind my paintings’. Christian Lock, in conversation with Elle Freak, Adelaide, September 2013