Steve Locke, DYLANN (profile), 2017, from the series #Killers (2017-18). Graphite on paper, 22 x 30 inches (55.9 x 76.2 cm). Acquired through the generosity of Steve Corkin and Dan Maddalena, Marlene and David Persky, and General Acquisition Fund. Photo by Stewart Clements © Steve Locke
Steve Locke’s practice spans painting, drawing, photography, and installation and explores ambivalent relationships between masculinity, homosexuality, and public memory. His work also acknowledges contemporary anxieties around terrorism, war, and torture, and has recently recruited nontraditional portraiture to explore the racial violence against, and tragic killing of, people of color—all too often at the hands of the police. In these works, absence is a major structuring device. #Killers, Locke’s recent drawing series, features large areas of negative space. Suspended in this space are the rendered faces of men and women, who played a role in the slaying of African Americans: whether they be a police officer, such as Darren Wilson, who shot and killed Michael Brown in 2014; or a civilian, such as Carolyn Bryant, whose grotesquely false statements led to the kidnapping and horrific murder of Emmett Till in 1955. With very few exceptions, these killers are white. Their faces, drawn from images sourced from the internet, float in a stark field of white paper, compositionally referencing the layout of a newspaper. In their sparse and highly mediated quality, they invert methods of portraiture to picture the source, rather than the effect, of racial violence.
This selection from #Killers introduces to the collection an artist with strong ties to Boston and to the ICA’s exhibition program: the museum presented the solo exhibition Steve Locke: there is no one left to blame in 2013. Presenting a mode of portraiture recast through the lens of mass media, the #Killers series builds on other drawings in the ICA’s collection by Robert Pruitt and Nalini Malani that stand as portraits of the individual and the collective. The series aligns with ICA’s commitments to expand narratives around race, representation, and institutional responsibility in today’s political climate.