(Birmingham, Alabama, 1951 - )
Charlie Lucas was born in Birmingham, Alabama on October 12, 1951.(1) His parents supported the family of 14 children through sharecropping and through his father's work as a chauffeur and mechanic. Despite the size of his family, Lucas was a loner as a child. He would amuse himself by making patterns in the dirt or making toys for himself, his brothers and sisters, and other neighborhood children out of scraps of metal, wood, cloth and other materials. Lucas attended school sporadically when the farm work allowed and finally dropped out of school in 8th grade.
At the age of 14, Lucas left home and started traveling around the Southeast. He went door to door looking for work and did a number of odd jobs before he learned to do some construction work. In 1968, he settled in Miami, Florida where he worked on the docks. Two years later, Lucas returned to Alabama and on April 26, 1971, he married his childhood sweetheart, Annie Marie Lykes. They settled near his family in Pink Lily, Alabama, just north of Prattville.
Lucas continued to work at a variety of jobs in maintenance and construction. However, in 1984, he was disabled by a back injury which required surgery. During his recuperation he had what he has described as a revelation during which he decided to devote himself to being an artist full-time. He started with painting, then as his condition improved, he began creating welded metal sculptures out of found objects and scraps. Lucas installed these sculptures in his yard and along the road nearby and soon attracted interested buyers. Judge Mark Kennedy, owner of the Sweetgum Gallery in Montgomery, was one of the first to discover Lucas' work and begin promoting it. Lucas soon also was discovered by the voracious folk art collector, William Arnett. Both Kennedy and Arnett have since periodically served as Lucas' agent.
By 1988, Lucas had begun exhibiting his art, starting with the group exhibition "Outside the Mainstream: Folk Art in Our Time" at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. Since that time, he has participated in shows at museums and galleries in New York, Chicago, and New Orleans as well as El Paso, Texas, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Atlanta, Georgia and other cities across the United States. Lucas has also had several solo exhibitions including an installation at the Sloss Furnace National Historical Landmark in Birmingham in 1991, at the Los Paisanos Gallery in El Paso, Texas in 1995, and the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts in 1996. Lucas' works can be found on permanent exhibit at the Birmingham International Airport in Birmingham, Alabama and in San Francisco, Baltimore, and Winston-Salem, North Carolina. William Arnett also owns a large number of his works.
Currently, Charlie Lucas commutes between Selma, Alabama and his workshop out in "Pink Lily", near Prattville, Alabama. Lucas built sevral houses on the property out of discarded tin and scrap lumber, and they are surrounded by his sculptures. His workshop is across the road which is also decorated with his works. The entire family has been inspired by this artistic environment. Annie Lucas, Charlie's wife, took up painting in the late 1980s and the Lucas children have all taken to building things out of scrap metal like their father. Lucas has also served as an artist-in-residence for schools and communities, conducting demonstrations and art-making workshops. In the fall of 1997, he went to Yale University to speak. Lucas has said:
"My career is at the point I want it to be. I don't care if my name is in lights. My art is my family and my friends. Through the Kind Spirit the pieces that I don't sell talk to me and teach me. I'm real happy about myself. I'm teaching myself to read. In school I just wanted to study art. My teacher said 'No! You need to learn a trade. Art is for white people.' Now I can do anything I want to do...Now people recognize me and say 'there goes Charlie Lucas'." (2)
His current dream is of an interactive theme park where children could play among various kinds of art and where they and their parents could create things together.(3)
Lucas has had no formal training as an artist, but during his childhood he learned a number of crafts through watching relatives. His great grandfather was a blacksmith who also created metal sculpture with leftover scraps and Lucas spent many hours watching him work. Lucas' grandfather was a basket-maker and his grandmother and mother were both quilters. Lucas has tried to keep aspects of all these traditions alive in his work. He sees his talent as both a God-given gift and as the expression of his family's craft traditions. This connection to his family's past is a vital part of Lucas' work.(4)
Since his revelation in 1984, Lucas has called himself the "Tin Man".(5) For Lucas, the Tin Man seems to be both a separate person and the creative side of his personality(6): "Charlie Lucas is the man that guides the Tin Man. If you cut us in half, you still wouldn't be able to understand it. It's like, it's like the Tin Man's wrapped around me and plugging in the holes."(7) The first sculptures Lucas created as the Tin Man he called his Ten Commandments; for him, they represent aspects of the person he is working to become. They include works such as "Spring Man", who is a warrior, "Woodchopper", who is a faithful friend and provider, and "Power Man", who is pure creative energy.(8) The subjects of subsequent works have come from Lucas' imagination and his love of animals, dinosaurs, and children. All his works are spoken of affectionately as friends and companions.(9)
Lucas creates his sculptures from discarded materials, particularly metal.(10) He has used tin, steel, wire, and tools, old bicycle and car tires, mufflers, and other automobile parts. He assembles his sculptures through an additive process, manipulating and binding them through the use of wire cutters, a hammer, pliers, wire, and a welder's torch. His sculptures can take months and even years to complete.(11) Lucas' earliest sculptural works are metal weave created with strips of metal and wire. More recently he has added other objects to these woven constructions, attaching them with welds. As a child, Lucas created a number of objects with moving parts, but to date, this is not a common feature of his adult work. In addition to sculpture, Lucas also does semiabstract paintings with house paint on canvas and used boards, usually in bright yellows, greens, reds, and browns.
(1)Biographical information has been compiled from the following sources: Information on file, Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Montgomery, Alabama; Another Face of the Diamond: Pathways through the Black Atlantic South, INTAR Latin American Gallery, New York, 1989; The Voice Within: The Art of Charlie Lucas, Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark, February 1-March 18, 1991; Miriam Fowler, "Charlie Lucas", Outsider Artists in Alabama, Alabama State Council on the Arts, November 1991; Alice Rae Yelen, Passionate Visions of the American South: Self-Taught Artists from 1940 to the Present, New Orleans Museum of Art, 1993; Kathy Kemp and Keith Boyer, Revelations: Alabama's Visionary Folk Artists, Crane Hill Publishers, Birmingham, Alabama, 1994; Margaret Lynne Ausfeld, "Charlie Lucas. The New Breed", brochure for an ArtNow exhibition, May 4-August 18, 1996, Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Montgomery, Alabama; taped interview with the artist by Tara Sartorius, Curator of Education, January 16, 1997, on file at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts.
(2)Fowler, 1991, pg. 32.
(3)Glynda Klinger, "'Tin Man' is wizard in world of sculpture", Montgomery Advertiser, July 8, 1997.
(4)"Our ancestors used the great knowledge. It's up to us to be diggin' and scratchin' to bring that knowledge back. Circles and wheels were very important to them, as signs, a lot of people didn't know what the heck was going on, but those circles and wheels always ended up in my work." (Another Face of the Diamond, 1989, p. 49); "I wanted the weaving technique to be in my work. That way, I can give the old ancestors the respect for what I learned from them. I use the old wheels a lot in honor of my great-grandfather, because he worked on wagon wheels and stuff. I had to make sure I could see them peoples again and again in my life, that I could look back and appreciate what they have did for me." (Kemp and Boyer, 1994, p. 118).
(5)Lucas has given several explanations for the origin of this nickname. He has said that he chose it because he only had ten dollars in his pocket when he started as an artist, and because he works with tin and other metals, among other reasons (see the Montgomery Advertiser, July 8, 1997).
(6)Videotaped interview with the artist by Tara Sartorius, January 16, 1997, on file, Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Montgomery, Alabama. In the interview Lucas talks about leaving the Tin Man behind when he leaves his workshop and crosses the road back to his house, where he becomes Charlie Lucas again. Similar comments can be found in most articles about the artist.
(7)Pam Jones, "The Tin Man. Artist Molds Imagination into Metal Creatures", Alabama Journal, August 25, 1988, p. 20.
(8)Videotaped interview with the artist, January 16, 1997.
(9)Videotaped interview with the artist, January 16, 1997. Lucas has spoken of his work this way in all of the interviews and articles about his art.
(10)Lucas has said that he chooses discarded materials because "I see myself as showing people that they are throwing away their lives" (The Alabama Journal, August 25, 1988, p. 21).
(11)Kemp and Boyer, 1994, p. 122. "[Lucas] often starts a piece, works on it a few days, and then starts another piece.' That way, anytime I want to come out here and play with one of the toys, I got all the variety to play with. And I don't feel like I'm mass-producing the work.'"