Mr. Donald Locke (1930-2010) was a multifaceted artistic talent. His career spans over five decades and follows his wide-ranging intellectual curiosity. Donald was born in South American in the Caribbean coast country of British Guyana. The Guyanese culture reflects the mix of European, Amerindian, African and East Indian religions, traditions and folklore. Spirit, animal and ghost stories are told in tandem with patriotic-national, historical and family narratives to create a pool of “mytho-poetic material”. This material was a consistent source of inspiration and content that he infused into his teaching, writing, painting pottery and sculpture.
He was quite the academic achiever and led a vibrant, adventurous life. His educational pursuits mirrored his artistic medium of choice. What is most interesting about Donald, is that when he first began studying art, he was deemed as having little talent. But he did it anyway. In 1946, he was awarded a scholarship that led to his studying painting. In conjunction with earning a Teacher’s Certificate from the Guyana Ministry of Education in 1950, he sold his first painting. In 1952, he wins Working People’s Art Class’ (WPAC) First Prize Gold Medal Award for abstract painting, The Happy Family.
His next academic stop was in Corsham, England where he earns a Teaching Certificate in Art Education w/ a supplementary certificate in the Visual Arts with Museum and Drama (equivalent of a B.A.). Here, he studies painting, pottery and sculpture under industry leaders. The area lacked traditional ceramics making facilities, so he adopted the school’s experimental process for making his pottery.
For the latter part of the 1950’s he stayed in Guyana until he received a Government Ministry of Education award to study for a M.A. honors degree in fine arts (equivalent to Ph.D.) at Edinburgh University. During this time, he connected with several American clay artists from California that were instrumental in bringing a new style of clay craft to Britain. Their approach was linked to the New York abstract expressionist movement. The connection to this creative mentality was quite significant because he essentially abandoned his former approach and adopted this one until he relocated to Atlanta in 1990.
During most of the 1960’s, Mr. Locke crisscrossed continents and countries to pursue research and work based upon his continuous receipt of academic awards. In the latter half of the decade, a painting from one of his exhibitions became the olive branch that his country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs purchases to donate to the Brazilian government with the intention of establishing diplomatic relations. The initiative worked and resulted in Donald visiting Brazil on fellowship from the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. There, his large, biomorphic ceramic sculptures made while at Edinburgh were part of a group exhibition. Interestingly, his work was presented under a pseudonym, Issorosano Ite.
Throughout the 1970’s, he again returns to London to teach and continues making mixed media ceramics. These works include the Plantation Series, a sculptural metaphor for the corrosive plantation system of labor, wealth and social structure. He receives invitations as a guest artist in Maine and then in Arizona where an Arizona State University professor, Randy Schmidt, invited him to be a guest artist at his convenience.
In 1979, he receives the Guggenheim Fellowship in Sculpture. He accepts Schmidt’s and is given a studio in graduate ceramics department. That fall he begins at ASU where they immediately introduce him to o Southwestern culture through a midnight visit to a Yaqui burial ground.
In the 1980’s he departed from ceramics to creating bronze sculptures, especially figurative nudes. He also became a correspondent for Artspace Magazine and began writing for the Phoenix New Times weekly paper and a few other regional and national art publications.
Throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s, Donald allowed himself to be influenced with sights, energy and new connections in his travels, especially to Chicago. After nearly a decade of abandonment, he picked up his brushes and began painting. In 1990, he moved from Arizona to Atlanta, where his work became influenced by local artists. His painting became larger, deviated from European civilization and academic traditions and contained mixed media elements such as newspaper clippings, wood, metal, acrylic, etc. One of his submissions to Commission for Olympic Development of Atlanta (CODA) was accepted.
Donald continued creating more work deviating from European influence. In 2005, he was invited to participate in Back To Black: The Black Arts Movement at Whitechapel Gallery, London, focusing on the rise of the Black Arts Movement in the US, Britain and Jamaica in the 1960s and 1970s. Locke’s Trophies of Empire I, 1972-74, was selection as it was the most affecting and powerful work by black artist working in London during this period.
Throughout the last decades of his life, he enjoyed wider exhibition exposure in Atlanta, London, New Orleans, New York and San Francisco. Additionally, Out of Anarchy: Five Decades of Ceramics and Hybrid Sculptures (1959-2009), The Work of Donald Locke became a published book covering 50 years of his work. His art continues to be displayed in international exhibitions to this day. Atlanta’s High Museum of Art’s has pieces of his in their permanent collection.
His career defied the odds in talent, education and place. His immense intelligence, curiosity, dedication to craft and pursuit of excellence made him a global talent that left an expansive body of work for generations to come.
Image of Donald Locke ©Repeating Islands | Images ©Donald Locke