In Review / Alex Lockwood: Shake / Oxbow / Seattle, WA / By Cameron Anne Mason
Entering Oxbow art space, a high-ceilinged former garage in Seattle’s gritty post-industrial Georgetown neighborhood, one comes face-to-face with a large cartoonish character fashioned from repurposed consumer waste. A collection of bottle caps, take-out lids, and plastic dishes are transformed into a grimacing puppet, inviting visitors to visually parse it into its component parts. Just beyond this sentinel is a monumental tapestry made of over 16,000 shotgun shells, each stitched onto steel mesh, creating waves of texture and color. Visually referencing the work of El Anatsui or Naomi Wanjiku in both scale and materials, Alex Lockwood finds beauty in re-envisioning the cast-offs of culture to create the playful and compelling work in Shake (June 13–September 15, 2015).
Lockwood is a self-taught artist who begins his process driven work by collecting materials that no longer have value, whether scratched and discarded lottery tickets in Brooklyn, or the shotgun shells and bottle caps of his current home in Tennessee. He looks to folk and outsider art to develop his techniques of making. In each body of work, the materials drive the craft, each demanding a unique solution.
Made while he was living in Brooklyn, Lockwood’s basket-like structures use the bright colors of discarded lottery tickets to create repetitive and mesmerizing designs. He folds each ticket into a simple shape with which he builds organic forms constructed without glue or internal structure. Each ticket represents the interaction of hope and loss imbued into it by the individual who purchased, scratched, and then threw it away. Lockwood adds intention by transforming those discards into an artifact of uncommon beauty.
Lockwood’s new large studio space in Tennessee has changed his work in scale and media. No longer surrounded by the bodegas of Brooklyn, he finds different materials in his new environment. Shotgun shells are collected at shooting ranges where their history, not of bloody violence but of the explosive energy of gunpowder, clings to the brass-tipped cylinders. Bottle caps are remnants of that which is consumed but not consumable, unchanging reminders of the plastic vortexes at the center of our oceans.
These transformations, despite the inherent message of the materials, are not humorless. Indeed, the title of the show Shake invites the viewer to interact with the sculptures on display at Oxbow. Whimsical masks tempt visitors to try on a new persona. Suspended creations of bottle tops are jellyfish, or mops of hair animated by pull ropes. Children respond without reservation, putting on masks, spinning the sculptures, or walking over the shotgun shell tapestry where it spills onto the floor, delighting in the crunching sound of their footsteps.
As the father of two young boys, Lockwood encourages the interaction. He wants to break down the barrier of preciousness that exists between art and object. Each of the thousands of plastic pieces used to make this artwork has already been twisted and pulled, loaded and aimed, then shot and discarded. Now the artist invites a different interaction, one in which the viewer rethinks the detritus of our throwaway culture. Shake exerts a gentle influence on the viewer to make different choices about how to tread on this small planet that we share with the next generation.