Art of transformation: Outsiders to present work of Charlie Lucas
Charlie Lucas, using his hands and a pair of pliers, manipulates several pieces of scrap metal wire as he sits on the porch of Outsiders Art and Collectibles. When he finishes, Lucas has twisted and turned the wire to make two profiles of faces. He points out the shape of the nose, mouth, and hair.
Lucas lives in Prattville, Ala., and is in Durham this week for today’s opening of his show at Outsiders. Some 40 pieces of Lucas’ art – small sculptures, paintings, and some small drawings and paintings that he calls “TV snacks,” will be on view and for sale through Oct. 25.
The exhibit is titled “Transformation,” because Lucas takes discarded materials – wood, metal, paper and more – and creates sculptures, installations and paintings. He compares the process of creation to music and finding the right rhythm. As Karen Mack (who runs the online folk art gallery Mike’s Art Truck), curator of the show, was setting up the exhibit this week, Lucas pointed to the “TV snacks.” Asked about how he chooses colors, he said, “You find the rhythm and it leads you to the color.” Making the smaller paintings is “my playtime to be free inside of myself.”
Lucas lives on five acres that he named Pink Lily in Prattville, where he collects discarded goods and makes his creations. In nearby Selma, he uses an old warehouse called the Tin Man Studio as a place to work and display his art. An exhibit of his work titled “In the Belly of the Ship” is on view there. The University of Alabama Press also has published a book about his work, “Tin Man,” which contains photos and discussion from Lucas about his work.
Like other outsider artists, he is self-taught and creates his work from a personal vision. He began creating art in 1984, when he had a back injury that required a period of recuperation. One night “in the midst of me praying, the Tin Man came to me,” he said. The Tin Man “showed me that I had a talent” to share. Lucas signs some of his work with his initials, but other pieces with “Tin Man.”
His process of creating things out of found goods pre-dates the back injury. “I’ve been collecting things since I was a kid. I’ve been making things since I was 4 years old,” Lucas said. “Anything that was in a box, I was trying to take it out of the box.”
When he was young, his mother sent him to work with his great-grandfather, who was a blacksmith, to enforce some discipline, Lucas said. He learned the skills from his great-grandfather by watching. He learned about wood carving from his grandfather, also by close observation. He once thought his ability to make things was “a curse, because I couldn’t get it out of my head” and “didn’t know what to do with it.” He used his skills to do electrical and plumbing work before he began creating art full time.
“This idea came to me like two freight trains coming together,” he said of “In the Belly of the Ship” The exhibit contains images drawn from his life as well as African-American culture. “Basically everything that went on in my life, this is a piece of it.”
The art on view in “Transformation” also has numerous references to his life. Many of his paintings have a circle resembling a wagon wheel that Lucas said represents his grandfather. When he signs a painting “Tin Man,” his signature has two swirling marks underneath the words that represent his great-grandfather’s blacksmithing tools.
His work also tells stories, and Lucas invites viewers to add their own stories. “The Do-Rag Women” is a set of sculptures of four faces made with reshaped metal and cloth, which Lucas said represents his great-grandmother. “If you buy one, you have to name it after someone you know,” Lucas said of the sculptures.
Lucas also teaches workshops with students of all ages. He points to a painting that he said is a dinosaur trying to get into a car. In addition to paint, Lucas also used wooden spoons, tile, shingles and other found objects. He created the painting when he was teaching a workshop about how to tell stories using found objects, Lucas said.
“I see my life as sharing it with the world,” he said of his art. “I feel privileged to leave something like that.”
WANT TO GO?
WHAT: Opening reception for “Transformation: The Art of Charlie Lucas”
WHEN: Today, 5:30 p.m. to 8:30
WHERE: Outsiders Art & Collectibles, 718-C Iredell St., Durham
ADMISSION: Free. This exhibit continues through Oct. 25.