Art can be made even from simple, everyday objects — even a soup can.
That’s part of the message that Charlie Lucas, an Alabama folk artist, wants to convey through his sculptural works.
Outsiders Art & Collectibles Gallery in Durham and Mike’s Art Truck are presenting Lucas’ sculptural works, which are made from unconventional materials such as scrap metal, cans and car parts.
“I was already making toys like the G.I. Joe out of metal cans and stuff,” he said. “I made dolls for my sisters to play with. It’s kind of like a kid in a candy store. It’s not that I want to eat the candy, but I want to take the wrappers off and play with it.”
Lucas said he never knows what the pieces he creates are going to be.
“The pieces tell me what they want to be,” he said. “Like when a kid goes into Wal-Mart and wants a special toy. The toy introduces itself to him, and he knows it when he finds it — my rhythm is the same way.”
He gathers materials from dump sites, scrap yards and people’s yards.
“It’s like when you open a can of soup, and you dump the soup into a container but throw the can away,” he said, “I will look at that can as a bird, dinosaur or great big old flower.”
Lucas said he typically creates 400 pieces a year and has work featured in eight different countries.
Pamela Gutlon, owner of Outsider Art, said Lucas epitomizes what it means to be an outsider artist.
“Just because you are untrained doesn’t make you an outsider,” she said. “You have to have a story that you can’t tell any other way than through your art. He can’t read or write so this is how he tells his story.”
Karen Mack of Mike’s Art Truck said that she believes folk art is an important genre of art, and it needs to be better represented in the area.
She and her husband are working with outsider artists like Lucas to showcase their work in a way that it wouldn’t typically be showcased.
“Trained artists have outlets,” she said. “A lot of folk artists are just your average you’s and me’s out there in the countryside. They didn’t set out to make money-making paintings so they didn’t really prepare for success.”
Mack said it’s the internal drive of these artists that set them apart from the rest.
“Each artist is different, and they all have a different reason for making what they do,” Mack said. “But they all have an internal drive to make the art. Some of them really can’t do anything else.”
Lucas said he believes that important lessons about respecting elders and recycling can be learned from his work.
“The biggest thing that I try to impress young minds with is that they can recycle,” he said. “I’m about recycling. We throw away too much. I talk about the older people because once they get old, we throw them away.”
Lucas said his art saved his life.
“To me it’s a healing process because everybody that comes in contact with my work,” he said. “They see the playfulness in me, the child in me and that’s hard to keep as an artist.”
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