First emerging as part of a group of British painters in the 1960s who were nicknamed the Bradford Mafia, John Loker has transformed his practice numerous times in the last sixty years—exploring outer space and human uncertainty through abstract painting, minimalist sculpture and photography. A comprehensive exploration of his career to date is currently showing at Flowers Gallery.

 

You might not believe it on first glance, but there is a dark undercurrent which runs through much of John Loker’s work. Painted often in bright or soft colours, with sonorous lines and plenty of energy on the surface, his most recent work nonetheless references topics such as war, human uncertainty and the vastness of outer space, and a dark void hangs behind the many vibrant marks which jostle in the foreground.

While interpretations of solid objects and icons fill the works—among them, whale tails (an animal which captures just the right amount of power and vulnerability), pig arcs (metal structures built to protect these small farmyard animals at night) and lumps of broken missiles and rockets—these never dominate. The viewer sees suggestions of shapes, and may try to piece together a narrative, but it’s more a feeling that pervades rather than a solid sense of understanding.

“I want them to feel as if there is a logic, a rightness to it,” the artist tells me when I visit him at his home and studio in the British countryside. “There’s a lot of detailing, but it just wants to feel like it’s there saying something rather than: ‘Ah, that’s a…’ I don’t want it to become too literal, but it is input by what I see and what I think about.”

The artist’s new show at Flowers Gallery in London brings together works from throughout Loker’s sixty-year career, just in time for his eightieth birthday. He trained at Bradford School of Art in the 1950s, alongside David Hockney, Norman Stevens and David Oxtoby—the group of Yorkshire-born painters with whom he would come to be grouped as part of the Bradford Mafia. While his practice now is hugely focused on paint and canvas, over the years he has worked in photography and sculpture also.

“I think there’s a certain way I came into painting,” he says. “When I was painting in the sixties, what I was doing was fashionable. Then I was a bit of a pioneer coming into photography in the late sixties. The minimalist sculpture was prevalent too. Then it was then the point of: Where do I go now? I couldn’t become a conceptual artist; I’m a maker of things. The way forwards was me going back to painting. So at the point where people were jumping into ultramodern, I went to painting. I felt that as painting’s a language I can speak, what the hell am I doing making these other things?”

Ben’s Lewis’s book “Horizons, Zones and Outer Spaces: The Art of John Loker” is published by Elephant in association with Flowers. All images © John Loker, courtesy Flowers Gallery, London and New York

 

John Loker: Six Decades

Until 27 October, Flowers Gallery, Kingsland Road, London

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John Loker, Space is a Dangerous Country, Adrift, 2018, oil on canvas (c) John Loker, Courtesy of Flowers Gallery London and New York
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