Fever Within: The Art of Ronald Lockett

Fever Within: The Art of Ronald Lockett

Fever Within: The Art of Ronald Lockett

Fever Within: The Art of Ronald Lockett


Ronald Lockett (1965-1998) stands out among southern artists in the late twentieth century. Raised in the African American industrial city of Bessemer, Alabama, Lockett explored a range of recurring themes through his art: faith, the endless cycle of life, environmental degradation, historical events, the sweetness of idealized love, mourning, human emotion, and personal struggle. By the time Lockett died at age thirty-two, he had created an estimated four hundred works that document an extraordinary artistic evolution. This book offers the first in-depth critical treatment of Lockett's art, alongside sixty full-color plates of the artist's paintings and assemblages, shedding light on Lockett's career and work. By placing Lockett at its center, contributors contextualize what might be best understood as the Birmingham-Bessemer School of art, which includes Thornton Dial, Joe Minter, and Lonnie Holley, and its turbulent social, economic, and personal contexts. While broadening our understanding of southern contemporary art, Fever Within uncovers how one artist's work has become emblematic of the frustrated, yearning, unredeemed promises, and family and community resilience expressed by a generation of African American artists at the close of the twentieth century.

Contributors include Paul Arnett, Sharon Patricia Holland, Katherine L. Jentleson, Thomas J. Lax, and Colin Rhodes.


Once Something Has Lived It Can Never Really Die

Bernard L. Herman

Ronald Lockett, hands thrust deep into the pockets of his dark slacks, studies the artwork he’s tilted against the corner of his garage studio in Bessemer, Alabama. His composition, roughly four feet square, consists entirely of found materials: rusted roofing and siding tin nailed to a weathered board backing (plate 52). A small vertical rectangle of metal painted white brightens and anchors the hand-cut oxidized metal panels, some crumpled, others bearing traces of worn and abraded paint. Always thoughtful in his responses, he speaks away from the camera as he assesses the work he has made. “This is called Oklahoma,” he begins. “This is the idea I came up with to express my idea about the Oklahoma bombing. It’s sort of abstract, with cut-out different shapes and stuff, with wire and old tin, and barbed wire.” Lockett pauses, then continues:

The iron has different shapes, sort of like the other
buildings in the background. When the building
was first destroyed, with the wire hanging down and
it was all caved in, I tried to come up with the best
idea I could to show that, to show the destruction.
When I first got the idea to do it, I didn’t really want
to offend anybody so I really wanted to come up
with an idea that wouldn’t offend anybody, I wanted
to come up with the best idea I could without of
fending any of those people that had families that
got killed in this federal building.

For Lockett, the power of Oklahoma and the related pieces in the Oklahoma series resided in the challenge of communicating intense feeling without literal representation.

In his brief commentary, Lockett neatly offers a critical framework for the aesthetic that informs his art:

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