Monday, March 19, 2012

Weekly Work: "Girl with Balloons"

The spotlight is on Charlie Lucas’s “Girl with Balloons” for this Weekly Work! The sculpture was made entirely out of scrap metals Lucas found in junkyards and was created primarily through welding techniques.

Lucas, affectionately dubbed “Tin Man,” was born to a family of 14 children in 1951 in Autauga County, Ala. Throughout his childhood, he was passionate about making toys out of household materials. Lucas discovered his love for working with metal from his father, who first taught him how to take apart and reassemble a car engine. Lucas left home at age 14, traveling as far as Florida, picking up odd jobs along the way.

At the age of 20, Lucas returned home to Autauga. There he reunited with his childhood love, Annie Lykes. In 1991, Lucas said, “I grew up with Annie. I always told her that I would come back and get her when I got an apartment. In 1971 I came home and got her. Here we are twenty years later.” The pair wed shortly thereafter and had six children of their own.

In 1984, a work-related injury to his back left Lucas bedridden for a year, with little opportunity to generate income. A deeply religious man, he prayed for the ability to do something no one else could. Through prayer, he found inspiration to return to metalwork. His first creation was a new mailbox, when he tired of receiving misdirected mail. The sculpture was a towering metal man holding a mailbox under his arm, and its success gave him the needed encouragement to create new works, from towering figures nearly 10 feet tall, to minute men measuring only a few inches.

"Girl with Balloons" pictured at the Georgia Museum of Art
“Girl with Balloons” is constructed in Lucas’s typical style. He found a variety of junk pieces and scrap metal, and welded them together into something beautiful. Elements from bicycles and car engines are evident in the work. The balloons are fashioned from bicycle wheels and the base she stands on is an old car wheel. Lucas said in a 1991 interview that he views his art as “making toys” and without that approach he would not know what he was making. Such a whimsical view is evident in this piece, as the girl clutches the balloon strings in the crook of her elbow. Given that Lucas has six children of his own, it is easy to see how he could have derived inspiration from his own family life for this sculpture.

Lucas continues to sculpt and paint. He has recently been honored as a guest lecturer at Yale University and his work has been featured in many exhibitions. Lucas still lives and works in Autauga. Check out the interview series above on Youtube for more information about Charlie Lucas!

1 comment:

W. White said...

I am glad to see Charlie Lucas showcased on this site. Although I only met him six or seven years ago, he is a good friend (though we would be good friends even if we had met yesterday, that is simply Charlie's personality).

However, I would have liked your post to at least mention Charlie's magnum opus, "In the Belly of the Ship," which is an extremely powerful collection of work that many more people should experience. Charlie used all the expertise and materials acquired through years of work to tell the narrative story of the Middle Passage and the subsequent lives of African Americans in this country. Mentioning work like that would portray Charlie as an artist and more than just a toy maker.

Also, while he still maintains several houses, including his house and workshop in Pink Lily, his main residence is in Selma, where he and the late Kathryn Tucker Windham were neighbors and great friends. If you should ever meet Charlie, ask him to tell you about how he and Kathryn Tucker Windham (by this time a 90-odd year old woman) used to go dumpster diving in Selma, at her insistance. What a sight!