/Amy Lockhart — Give Up The Ghost
This work continues my use of processes, materials and aesthetics usually associated with low or popular culture. I am interested in the visual language of graphic art and in popular culture’s ability to enforce a shared fantasy of what is real. I use these materials and processes to express my idiosyncratic view of the world, from my peculiar films and paintings to reproductions of everyday objects from my life. In doing so, I appreciate the beauty in the mundane, as well as the power of individuals to define their own reality, rather than having one imposed upon them.
/AMY LOCKHART is a filmmaker, animator, and artist. She has received international acclaim, speaking and exhibiting her work at various institutions, including residencies at The California Institute of the Arts and The School of the Art Institute of Chicago as a visiting artist instructor.
/AMY LOCKHART — WHAT’S UP WITH HER?
I’ve been looking at and admiring Amy Lockhart’s work for the past ten years. I was immediately struck by her animated films, in particular The Devil Lives in Hollywood (1999). Its dreamy logic that combined deer, warplanes, a wheelchair-bound Superman and a jokey stream-of-consciousness voiceover absolutely mesmerized me. After showing the film to a four-year-old visitor, I asked him what he thought of it. It had been difficult to tell from his silent stare. He told me, “It’s BEAUTIFUL!” Lockhart’s current works on paper and canvas are less coercive and convulsive than her previous work in film and her zine publications, but they are equally beautiful. Her early zines had wonderfully scratchy, round figures and drawings of peculiar beings reproduced from lined notebooks; while babies and horrible children continue to appear in her work, most of them seem to have grown up.
In this exhibition, there are many portraits. In her animations, there has been an emphasis on seemingly autonomous processes happening within spitting distance of, or sometimes on, each other. In these new paintings, the people either stand alone or appear to be operating in parallel universes. The subjects ignore each other.
It’s worth paying attention to a few elements of Lockhart’s figures – missing arms, knotty abs and rib cages, teensy tiny noses, super-wide necks. The repetition and variations of these elements are essential to the work. These runaways from a carnival freak show are just going about their mysterious business. Do we have the luck of catching them in their off hours? Thanks to Lockhart, we do. Part of the power of these paintings and drawings lies in what the artist chooses to omit. A large part of Lockhart’s artistic success is to focus on the elements she wants to focus on, and to ignore what she doesn’t care about. That could be said of any good art, but given Lockhart's orientation to pop and folk art, her passions stand out stand out more clearly.
A question I’ve found perplexing is whether Lockhart’s art is feminist. Her work has been screened, exhibited and published in both mixed-gender and women’s/feminist galleries, venues, and publications. Given the relative amoralism of her work and its lack of explicit political or social messages, it is tempting to dismiss the feminist dimension of it. However, there are themes that recur through her work that help to qualify it as feminist art:
• One consistent theme is Lockhart’s concern for and attention to domestic issues that are frequently written off as trivial. Her last book is called Dirty Dishes. Her live action video It’s Party Time is a grotesque, horrifying and super-funny tale of a mother/daughter conflict. Her animation The Collagist, and its accompanying installation, a very loving tribute to her partner, is also a portrait of an artist who works at home.
• Lockhart draws, paints, and sculpts women beautifully. Her women (or ladies?) are often grotesque and otherwise strange, but there’s not a trace of misogyny in these paintings. Instead, there’s a sense of empathy and curiosity. A great deal of early 20th Century art portrayed women as monsters and viewed them with cynicism and contempt. I don’t find any cynicism in Lockhart’s work. The high heels, painted fingernails, and lipsticked lips in this exhibition are drawn and painted with love and affection.
• Then there’s the question of craft. Unlike many feminist artists since the 1970s who have employed craft elements and techniques to challenge the hierarchy of so-called "feminine" Craft and "masculine" Art, Lockhart’s use of craft techniques is closer to a bricolage/punk/folk art aesthetic. Throughout her work, Lockhart has repeatedly used patterned, lined and kraft papers to draw and paint on. Her recent paintings on canvas seem to indicate a move to “maturity”, while her use of tape and cardboard undo this. As the American cultural theorist and film critic David E. James has written, American punk/hardcore—the social root of d.i.y. zine and video culture—smashed the division between avant-garde and populist aesthetics and practice (1). This culture evolved through the 1980s toward a more pluralist aesthetic. Lockhart’s work seems informed by the quirkier side of the Kill Rock Stars record label.
A few months ago, while chatting with the artist, I found out that Lockhart and I were both big fans of Sam Raimi's 2009 comedy horror film Drag Me to Hell. We had never talked about horror movies before, but discovered we both like them, and I now recognize more clearly elements of the horror genre in her work. The most obvious visual reference to this genre is the inclusion of deformed and injured bodies as subjects. The more important connection is the suggestion of narrative in Lockhart's work. Many of the paintings could act as film stills—which makes sense, given Lockhart’s background in animation and video—and suggest potential danger. Are these figures lost in the woods? Surrounded by creeps? Stuck in a bathroom? Showing a little too much cleavage? Horror turns easily to comedy when the blood spurts. What makes these paintings scary is that an unknown something is going to happen. In The Contested Castle, literary critic Kate Ellis argues that the emergence of modern horror literature is in the dispute over whether the private home is a place of safety or one of danger (2). Are Lockhart's characters at home or on their way to home? Or are they runaways, as I suggest above? Is Lockhart depicting heroes, villains or victims? The neutral, still portrait or figurative painting doesn’t answer that question.
Lockhart’s art has been compared to several schools and individual artists. I see in it bits and pieces of art, high and low, avant-garde and popular, from the past hundred years. In the future these tensions could be part of an interesting dialogue and discussion. For now, I’d encourage people to embrace the wide-eyed stare of a 4-year-old. Are these works beautiful or ugly? Try looking. But watch your back.
1 - James, David E., (1996) Power Misses: essays across (un)popular cultures, New York, Verso.
2 - Ellis, Kate F., (1989) The Contested Castle: Gothic Novels and the Subversion of Domestic Ideology, Champain, IL, University of Illinois Press.
/MARK CONNERY is an artist and educator living and working in Toronto. His comix and drawings have been published in The Ganzfeld, Nog A Dod and many irregular zines. He studied English Literature and Women's Studies at the University of Toronto.