Bob Lockhart is many things: a man of faith who has seen his share of despair; a rabble-rouser who champions social justice; an inspirational teacher who is most drawn to projects that expose what he himself has yet to learn.
The art he has made for more than 50 years reflects all those facets. Last fall, it was brought together for the first time in The Untold Tale of Bob Lockhart, a comprehensive retrospective of his work as an artist and an educator. Organized by the Louisville Visual Art Association (LVAA), which has similarly honored other significant Louisville artists such as Barney Bright and Paul Fields, the retrospective was a series of three exhibitions:
- “Robert Lockhart Retrospective” at the LVAA, a collection of Lockhart’s sculpture, paintings and drawings;
- “The Sardonic Eye: Bob Lockhart and Friends,” at the University of Louisville’s Cressman Center Gallery, works by Lockhart and his contemporaries; and
- “Bobzilla! The Legacy of Bob Lockhart,” Bellarmine’s McGrath Gallery, work by his former students.
Mr. Lockhart, a nationally known sculptor, established Bellarmine’s Art Department in 1967 and built it over the next 40 years into a well-regarded program that now includes nearly two dozen instructors in multiple media. He retired in 2011 and holds the title of professor emeritus. Bellarmine’s campus is defined by his bronze sculptures: the Holy Family in Our Lady of the Woods Chapel; Thomas Merton and Angela Merici; and two iconic large-scale pieces, The Bellarmine Knight and St. Robert Bellarmine. But he is more proud of the annual service trip to Guatemala that he and his wife, Dottie, began 20 years ago and which continues today.
Peter Morrin, former director of the Speed Museum and now head of U of L’s Arts and Culture Partnerships Initiative, curated “The Sardonic Eye” and notes in the exhibit catalog the remarkable range of media that Mr. Lockhart has employed to express his creativity – sculpting in wood, bronze, stone and clay; making etchings and lithographs; and drawing with pen and ink, oil pastels and watercolor.
Mr. Lockhart studied at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago, and his work, Morrin says, fits into the stylistic category of “Chicago Imagism,” which uses surrealism, humor and word play and embraces popular culture. But “sardonicism is not a cruel and mocking laugh in Lockhart’s oeuvre,” Morrin writes; “rather, it is a contradictory exuberant and melancholy investigation of frailty.”
As might be expected, Mr. Lockhart had a complex reaction to his Untold Story. Asked what it felt like to see his life’s work on display, he paused for several moments. “I don’t know what it felt like,” he said finally. “It was very confusing for somebody like me. It felt like there should have been someone else picked. It felt wonderful to have a professional critique of my work again, a critique by a curator; I haven’t had that since I left Chicago and New York. It felt incredibly flattering that all the artists selected for ‘Bobzilla’ agreed to do that. It felt like possibly a statement about the end of my career, but a positive one.”
He’s not ready to put down the pencil yet, though. Far from feeling he’s at the end, he said, the retrospective has spurred him on to make more art. “I still have a lot to do,” he said. He will focus primarily on drawing and ceramics, because while he is still healthy at 72, carving is now physically painful for him. Coming back to drawing, he said, “has been something wonderful – a surprise. I think it’s ironic; my degree was in it – that is how I started my career. I think it’s going to be more of a mental game now, if you will. That’s where my sardonic eye is going.”
He also continues to find opportunities to teach. This summer he’ll be a visiting artist for two months in Texas. “Teaching is who I am, as far as I am concerned,” he said. “It’s who I was allowed to be, I should say. That’s what I want on my grave: That I was a decent teacher. And to have that many artists to choose from [for ‘Bobzilla’] – that many who are making art, and who will say that I had something to do with that – that was extremely humbling. I was proud of that.”
Carla Carlton | firstname.lastname@example.org