First published: Winter 2014
Ronald Lockett’s Drought (1994) is an examination of mortality through rusted and flaking horizontal strips of sheet metal. A deer, head dipped gracefully between its front legs, seeks out water. Formed from punctures and striations that disrupt the picture’s ground surface in disconcerting ways, the animal’s head, neck and shoulders are delineated through aggressive strips, while its legs and haunches recede as a constellation of small perforations. An attached, undulating metal scrap at the lower left of the picture hints at a riverbank, but its rich brown colour pairs with the title to imply aridity and barrenness. As the deer seeks water, the metal surface frustrates its search. Through the harshness of the environment and the passage of time, the deer is receding into the terrain, the landscape, and history.
Rebirth, 1987, wire, nails and paint on Masonite, 12 x 18.5 ins., 30.5 x 47 cm,
photo courtesy the Souls Grown Deep Foundation
Artist Ronald Lockett was interested in ephemerality, destruction and memory throughout his artistic career. In his early pieces, from the late 1980s, he experimented with many techniques and materials in service to these concerns. Rebirth (1987) is a delicately limned animal skeleton on a painted, colour-blocked surface. Civil Rights Marchers (1988), a found-object-layered surface augmented with bright splattered paint, is in conversation with works by Lockett’s mentor and cousin Thornton Dial. Hiroshima (1988), a textured surface of black, red, and white paint is, in its subtleties, a quiet conversation about the horrors of nuclear warfare.
Each looks remarkably different and speaks of a different story of decay and life cycles, of challenge and triumph, and of human atrocity, respectively. They are united, however, in their concern with memory and commemoration, and each work considers how events and beings should and will be remembered over time. Drought is indicative of Lockett’s early-to-mid 1990s work. In 1992 or 1993, the artist began repurposing used metal sheets as ground surfaces, and his pieced and pierced metal invokes age and abuse. These works are raw and intricate, delicate but solid; they consider ephemerality.