Ronald Lockett


Lockett was a self-taught painter whose life and art straddled two eras: the rural, prewar worldview of the elders who raised him, and the industrialized, steel-dependent way of life in his Bessemer, Alabama, neighborhood, known as Pipe Shop. Lockett’s family was torn apart when he was young; his parents divorced, his father remarried andtook up residence nearby, and his mother suffered nervous collapses. Lockett’s four siblings gradually left his mother’s home, but he lived with her his entire life. Heremembered wanting to be an artist since childhood. After finishing high school, he stayed in Pipe Shop—jobless, making drawings, and spending many of his days atthe home of his neighbor and relative, artist Thornton Dial Sr. (1928–) watching the older man work on metal patio furniture and the painted sculptural “stuff” thatwould later bring Dial renown. Lockett never formally took up any occupation; in 1987 his art was “discovered” shortly after Dial began to receive outside attention.Lockett was influenced by mentor Dial philosophically but not stylistically. Lockett’s paintings were always naturalistic, although, like Dial, he sought to expresshimself through a variety of found materials and mixed media, including wood and tin siding salvaged from the barns and outbuildings throughout Pipe Shop. Lockettinvented a personal, postmodern folklore that expressed correspondence among his hopelessness as a young black urban male, the travails of endangered species andecosystems, and historical tragedies (the Holocaust, the decimation of native peoples, Ku Klux Klan terror, and Hiroshima were favorite themes). In the early 1990s henearly abandoned painting, and began creating collage-like assemblages of snipped, oxidized tin that he formed into unpainted, illusionist depictions of beleagueredcreatures, especially deer, bison, and wolves. Shortly after that transition in his art, Lockett tested positive for HIV, and his work plunged further into the deep ironiesof his fate.The 1995 bombing in Oklahoma City catalyzed Lockett’s most thoroughly realized series of works: abstract accumulations of tin nailed to plywood that resemblecityscapes, gutted buildings, gateways, prison cells, and patchwork quilts. During his last two years Lockett returned to painting, combining his “Oklahoma” tin-collage process with sickly sweet coatings of bilious yellows, rose reds, milk whites, and blacks in quilt-like works that commemorate his recently deceased great-grandmother, Sarah Dial Lockett (who raised Thornton Dial), and Princess Diana, while foretelling his own death. Lockett died of AIDS-related pneumonia in August 1998.