Trash to treasure artist

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 15, 2000

featured at ‘celebration’


Features Editor

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When the doors open to the "Celebration of Alabama Art with Pike County" Sept. 4, guests will get only a glimpse of the artistic genius of sculptor and painter, Charlie Lucas.

To get a good, hard look at the inner core of the man and the artist, one would have to visit his studio at Pink Lily, which, at a glance, might appear to be a junk yard.

But, what Lucas can do with a pile of junk is what makes him a genius in the art world.

Georgine Clark, visual arts program manager for the Alabama Council on the Arts, said formal art definitions have given Lucas’ works names ranging from "scrap-metal sculptor" to "constructed assemb,lage."

"But the success of Charlie Lucas’ work is completely apart from the formal designation," Clark said. "It comes, rather, from the spirit, vision and creative genius from the artist who made them, who saw that face smiling in the hood of a junked truck, that man’s torso in a car muffler and that camel when five railroad spikes were welded together."

Clark said using scrap materials and objects other people have thrown away is a most important part of Lucas’ work.

"He sees the process as giving them a new life and new meaning," she said. "He believes they are recycled just like he has been recycled."

A back injury in 1984 left Lucas disabled and he credits God with opening his mind, slowing him down and giving him a unique talent. From that time, he began creating large pieces by welding found materials and adding details with a cutting torch.

"Charlie Lucas is a unique talent and a unique individual," said Eva Green, curator of the Alabama Art Exhibition. "We are extremely fortunate to have him as one of the artists at our celebration of Alabama art."

And, likewise, Yvonne Wells.

Even those who aren’t familiar with Yvonne Wells will know her well after viewing her work. She "fabricates" her art in a patchwork of colors, textures, symbols – and memories.

Wells might be called a quilt maker or an artist or, better still, a quilt artist.

"However, Yvonne does not make traditional patterned quilts," Clark said. "Although she has chosen to use, primarily, fabric as her medium, she uses long, free stitching and is more concerned with artistry, design and message in the creation of her art than with sewing technique."

Each quilt piece is sewn by hand using a wide range of fabric and other materials – buttons, zippers, tape measures and flags. She searches stores, flea markets and trash piles for materials.

"Yvonne’s hand-stitched fabric constructions use rich symbolism and vivid colors to tell stories and to offer succinct comments on social and political issues," Clark said. "Her works require patient, sensitive viewing and often a contemporary historical framework for complete understanding."

Her reflections on civil rights history in the South include works that depict the struggle to remove the Confederate battle flag flying over the Alabama capitol and white hands holding a black child about the mouth of a crocodile.

"Her pictures include symbolic images of lynching, of four girls killed in a church bombing and of vicious dogs attacking marchers," Clark said. "Yet, these harsh statements are more than balanced by Yvonne’s positive outlook, humor and gentle observations."

Other themes show children playing, baseball games and Elvis. Each quilt is marked by at least one triangular piece of fabric sewn into the border.

"These she calls her ‘friends’ and they represent the Trinity and her very strong faith," Clark said,

Her work is definitely about the South, but more importantly about her life, her experiences and her soul, Clark said.

Wells, will join Lucas in exposing herself through her art, at the "Celebration of Alabama Art with Pike County" reception and exhibition from 6 until 8 p.m. Sept. 4 at the Pioneer Museum of Alabama.

The public is invited to be a part of this event which will be a stepping stone to the future of art in Alabama.

Sponsors for the event are Troy State University, the city of Troy, the Pike County Chamber of Commerce, the Troy Council on the Arts and Humanities and the Pioneer Museum of Alabama.

Editor’s note: See the Sunday edition of The Messenger for "portraits" of William Christenberry, painter, sculptor, photographer, and Flemming Tyler Wilson, photographer.