Author: Charlie Lucas and Ben Windham, Photographs by Chip Cooper
Publisher: University of Alabama Press
Price: $49.95 (cloth)
07/25/2011 Charlie Lucas is one of that growing group of Alabama folk artists—the Gee's Bend quilters and Mose T are two others—who have been discovered and widely celebrated. Lucas' work has been exhibited all over Alabama and in New York and France and has been written about seriously in a number of studies.
This volume begins with a Foreword by Robert Farris Thompson which suggests Lucas' place in art history. Some of sculptures might remind the viewer of a Calder mobile, but Thompson thinks Lucas is better. Other sculptures, especially of animals, partake of the magical spirit one finds on the Paleolithic drawings on cave walls in Lascaux, France.
Georgine Clarke, perhaps Alabama's foremost expert on folk art, talks in her Introduction of Lucas' use of found materials. For his art, Lucas uses "old tin, bicycle wheels, shovels, car mufflers, tractor seats, metal banding, wire and gears," usually stuff others have thrown away. But each piece, Lucas says, must speak to him; he must see something in it, something, it seems, no one else can see.
Clarke discusses Lucas' sculptures, his paintings and his collages, their energy and movement, their symbolism, their elasticity and turbulence.
Lucas' work is hard to analyze, being so personal, so idiosyncratic, coming as it does from his visions and his dreams.
The text in this book, while described as interviews by Ben Windham, is not in the form of Q and A. Windham has synthesized what must have been hours of talk with Lucas and presented the results as speech by Lucas, a powerful, moving oral autobiography. He describes his difficult childhood in deep poverty, one of 14 children, with a womanizing father.
Even then, though, Lucas was different. As a little kid in the mid-fifties he told his class he wanted to study classical music and be a ballet dancer. Three boys beat him up.
Lucas, depressed, dropped out of school early, and by 15 was working jobs in Florida.
From childhood Lucas had made art, what he called his toys.
After a serious truck accident in 1984, Lucas, recovering from back injuries, with a wife and 7 children and 10 dollars in his pocket, decided to find a new way to live and devoted himself to his art, trusting to his talent to see him through. Lucas had a powerful mystical experience, Lucas had a powerful mystical experience, a revelation that came to him in a dream.
He knew it was going to be very hard, but he told his kids, "I'll be able to write another language with my art. And in that new language, Lucas says, he "wanted to talk to God."
Lucas' career has been extraordinary. He has even become an Alabama household name, partly through his friendship with Kathryn Tucker Windham, his friend and neighbor in Selma.
Lucas had admired her for years but only came to know her at the gathering of Alabama artists in Vence, France. Ms. Windham craved a tomato sandwich and Lucas knew just where to get the tomato. They became fast friends. Readers who might like to know more about the Windham-Lucas relationship may read Roy Hoffman's nice piece, "Kathryn and the 'Tin Man'" in his recent collection, "Alabama Afternoons: Profiles and Conversations."
As engaging as Lucas' revelations are, however, the heart of this volume is the magnificent photography by Chip Cooper. Cooper has become, over the years, a master. There are here over 150 color photos of Lucas himself, with friends and in his studio, and, most importantly, his work.
The photos of paintings and sculpture are detailed, bright, dazzling in vibrant, mainly primary colors. They constitute an amazing retrospective of this unusual man's unusual work.