Profile: Charlie Lucas (1951-)

Charlie Lucas is a contemporary sculptor born in Prattville, Alabama, in the area known as Pink Lily, who now lives and works in Selma, Alabama. He is owner and operator of the Tin Man Studio, part gallery and part studio, in Selma.

Life

Charlie Lucas was born in Birmingham, Alabama on October 12, 1951. He is a descendant of six generations of craftspeople. His mother and grandmother were skilled quilters and ceramicists while his maternal grandfather and great-grandfather were blacksmiths. In fact, his great-grandfather, King Lucas, made sculptures of his own from discarded metal. Other members of his family were basket weavers and woodcarvers. Lucas studied blacksmithing and metal works, in general, with his grandfather. It was through him that Lucas learned to make toys for other children and decided to pursue art as a career. 

However, after Lucas completed the fourth grade in Elmo County, Alabama, he was scorned and ridiculed by a teacher for having the desire to be an artist. After this humiliation, Lucas ran away from home at fourteen and began performing technical labor, such as landscaping, car mechanics, truck driving, and construction. Three years later, at seventeen, he had settled in Florida working for a food manufacturer. At twenty-years-old, he returned to Alabama and began building a house in Prattville, Alabama, across the street from his grandmother’s house. The same year, he married Annie Marie Lykes. Together they had four sons and two daughters, some of whom help him construct his sculptures today. After their children grew up, Annie Marie and Lucas divorced, but he maintains a studio on their property in Prattville, where Annie Marie also works as an artist.

Career

Lucas was the eldest of many siblings, and he spent much of his childhood entertaining and making toys for other children. In 1984, at 33-years-old, Lucas fell off of the back of a truck on a construction site and was left permanently disabled. He was bed-ridden for nearly three years. Through his recovery, he found his artistic practice once again. He calls his artistic process “recycling himself” and his humanoid figures sculpted from recycled mechanical parts echo his sentiment. He refers to his sculptures as “toys,” continuing the practice he began in childhood, and he refers to himself as “The Tin Man”. He now owns and operates Tin Man Studio, a small gallery and studio, in Selma, Alabama. Although he now lives in Selma, he maintains his five-acre property in Prattville. His property stretches across both sides of the road that runs through Pink Lily. His family home sits on one side and on the other sits sprawling fields and rolling hills where Lucas has built a sculpture garden within a subsistence garden. His sculptures of giant masks and dinosaurs sit among corn, squash, and peanut crops.

Inspiration

Lucas’s main artistic concern is communication. Growing up with dyslexia, which rendered him illiterate until recently, forced Lucas to rely on visual and aural ways of communication. According to him, this is what has made him the artist and storyteller he is. Lucas makes his art “as toys to play with” through which he hopes “his culture, passion for mankind, and desire for ‘social unity'” shine through. He also makes these sculptures as friends, with which he can share his own dialogue, “and who can teach him lessons about life.”

Materials

Lucas’s largest sculptures are of people and animals constructed from welded metal bands. The negative space between the metal bands give the works a “light and airy appearance.” An example of this work is an eight-foot tall reptilian sculpture displayed on Lucas’s property in Prattville.

The smaller sculptures are made from welded recycled automobile and bicycle parts. Lucas frequently used bicycle wheels to convey stunted social and physical mobility, as evidenced by Three Way Bicycle and Old Wheel Don’t Roll No More.

Though his abstract paintings are less well known compared to his sculptures, he has made over one hundred paintings. He paints with house paint on canvas or used boards.

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