Tom Meyer, Portraits of Donald Locke in his Studio with Trophies of Empire (2005). (c) Tom W. Meyer
Donald Locke: An Appreciation
By Deanna Sirlin
I cannot remember the exact moment I met the artist Donald Locke (born 1930, Guyana, South America, died 2010, Atlanta, GA). I only know we recognized each other, not from the past but as kindred artistic spirits. I did not know this at the time, but Donald’s work was about to change from bronze figures and large dark paintings to talismanic sculptures and their counterpart in drawings. This must have been here in Atlanta, sometime around 1990. A short time later, Donald wrote about an exhibition of mine at a gallery in town, and I was struck by how insightful his review was.
For those who knew him, Donald liked to talk and hold court about art with just the right amount of Caribbean twang to make his proclamations charming. He could explain it all. He embraced the folk art he saw here in Atlanta and realized that this was a territory he could explore as an African Caribbean artist. I remember him telling me as I was about to do an installation in Italy that in Italy they understand and appreciate what it means to be an artist, and that I should revel in it. I did. And so did he, with his generosity of character and his wonderful dinners for ten or twelve for which he did all the cooking. At the table, he explained the methods behind his personal systems whether of shopping for the dinner, spicing the food, finding the right piece of wood for a sculpture, or writing about another artist’s work.
Donald Locke, Study for Brer Anancy, 2002.
(c) Donald Locke.
His sculptural work scared me in the way I was frightened as a child walking past the totems and masks in the African Art Collection of the Brooklyn Museum on my way to art class. I felt these objects in the museum held a power that their makers conferred on them and their communities, and I felt the same way when I came upon Donald’s sculptures in a gallery. The stranger they seemed, the more it seemed that spirits resonated within them. His drawing brought spirit and nature together in a dialogue that only he could arrange.
In the last few years, I did not see Donald as much as I would have liked due to my being injured and his failing health, but his last body of exquisite drawings allows me, or at least my eye, mind, and heart to continue my conversation with Donald. The lines in these drawings are strong and powerful, imbued with purpose, each curve resolutely defining a form. Although the man is gone and missed by many, his power is there, in the drawings, and it is through these works that he will be recognized and revered.
Donald Locke, Dolly Doll, 2002.
(c) Donald Locke.
Drawing by Donald Locke. (c) Donald Locke.
Deanna Sirlin is an artist and writer based in Atlanta, GA. She is Editor-in-Chief of TAS.