Nashville Scene

Alex Lockwood Mines Tragedy to Create a Fun, Horrifying Installation

Written by Laura Hutson - Feb 9th, 2017

"Eviscerated Yellow Man," Alex Lockwood

"Eviscerated Yellow Man," Alex Lockwood

There’s a phenomenon called pareidolia that causes people to see faces in ordinary inanimate objects — like Jesus in a grilled cheese or E.T. in a Cinnabon. With hisAwful Things, currently on view at Zeitgeist Gallery, Alex Lockwood has utilized his ability to visually anthropomorphize objects, but the faces aren’t your saviors or your cuddly alien friend — they’re the dead and dying, the tortured and the torturer.

The first thing you’ll notice about the sculptures is the superficial — they’re enormous, with torsos fashioned from industrial-size trash bins and heads made from the visibility balls that mark power lines. They’re brightly colored enough to be right at home in a child’s playroom, with the vibrant yellows, blues and pinks of a Fisher-Price toy. But these figures are far from playful — one has been strung up and bisected, its colorful guts sliced and spilling out onto the floor. Another is impaled on a spike, with blood and feces streaming out of him in curlicues made from strings of the red, brown and yellow plastic lids you might see on a jug of milk.

They say pareidolia is a neurosis, and if that’s true, then there must be a complementary neurosis that describes the nightmarish lens through which a grieving person sees everything. The closest thing, maybe, is post-traumatic stress disorder — Lockwood relied on his experience with PTSD to create this body of work. His trauma comes from 2008, when his partner died suddenly and unexpectedly. She had a seizure while the two of them were driving to a wedding, and within days she slipped into a vegetative state that ended, Lockwood says, when the decision was finally made to take her off life support and allow her to starve and dehydrate until she died. It took three weeks. The fact that Lockwood found solace in the blood, guts and terror of horror movies might be surprising to someone who’s never experienced the debilitating drain of grief — its unsubtle gore was a comfort, and is evident in the work here.

"Bisected Man," Alex Lockwood

"Bisected Man," Alex Lockwood

Greeting you as you enter the gallery is “The Perpetrator,” which is posed in a way Lockwood described to me as “Burt Reynolds in Playgirl” — all that’s missing is the bearskin rug. The subject’s face is made from an assortment of plastic pieces Lockwood found at thrift stores. Four Tupperware cups are arranged to make a nose, and eyes are made from yellow cereal bowls that have been flipped over and bolted together with white, blue and black pieces. Red PVC tubing creates cartoonishly evil eyebrows that have been placed in a V-shape. The giant seems to practically make eye contact with viewers as they enter, as if welcoming them into his den of despair.

Sharing the gallery space is another installation of paintings by Nashville art-scene stalwart Richard Feaster. They are stunning, opalescent large-scale canvases, but anything placed alongside the massive Awful Things works would be diminished by comparison. Similarly, Lockwood’s three smallish sculptures — made out of the plastic tabs that close a bag of bread — look like studies for something else, like the tediously constructed sculptural version of a hastily drawn sketch.

Lockwood may have relied on a personal tragedy to inform this work, but Awful Things arrived in the gallery at a particularly opportune time — the world seems to be spinning out of control so quickly that it’s hard to tell whether you should laugh, cry or shit yourself. If the sculptures are half as therapeutic to view as they were for Lockwood to create, all of Nashville should be lining up at Zeitgeist’s doors to exorcise their own horrors, and revel in the face of how funny, absurd, terrifying and awful life can be.