Donald Locke, 80: Shone as artist during his Atlanta Period

For most of his 60-plus years as an artist, Donald Locke shuttled back and forth across the Atlantic between Britain, the United States and his homeland of Guyana, learning, perfecting and refocusing his skills.

However, the last 20 years of his life that he resided in Atlanta are counted among the most productive periods in his career.

"I thought Donald was underrated for an artist who was so prolific over such a long period of time and was so representative of the black diaspora in North and South America," said Victor Davson, director of Aljira Contemporary Arts Center in Newark, N.J.

"So in 2004," he continued, "we at Aljira put on an exhibition of Donald's work -- from his early modernist period to his more recent expressive and experimental period, the two decades that he spent in Atlanta under the liberating influence of Southern folk artists like Thornton Dial. I was very proud of that exhibition."

The show received a positive review in The New York Times, "demonstrating how one artist can, over a long period of time, approach an immense subject ... like the presence of pre-Columbian and African cultures in the New World ... from many angles."

Mr. Locke's complex art, the review continued, exemplifies "a career far less shaped by brand-name consistency than by intellectual ... diversity."

"Donald's art grew out of sophisticated European traditions acquired during his studies in Guyana and Great Britain, but it also was infused with the myths and poetic aspects of his Guyana homeland and its folklore," said Carl Hazlewood of Newark, associate editor at NKA, a Journal of Contemporary African Art.

Mr. Locke mastered a variety of mediums -- drawings, paintings, sculpture, ceramics and mixed media, said Marianne Lambert, an Atlanta curator and art patron. "His expressiveness ran the gamut from frenzied drawings to the spare, clean lines of his sculptures."

"Donald was a larger-than-life personality and a wonderful storyteller, as influential in his conversation as he was with his art," she said.

Donald Cuthbert Locke, 80, died Monday at his Atlanta home of cancer. His memorial service will be 11 a.m. Saturday at Emory University's Cannon Chapel. A.S. Turner & Sons funeral home is in charge of arrangements.

Born in Guyana in 1930, Mr. Locke first immersed himself in art 17 years later when he took an art class in Guyana to prepare for an exam he needed to pass to qualify as a teacher. That experience was a career-changer, he said later: "I was converted instantly. I became an artist -- all in my head, of course -- and my life was changed forever."

The following decade, he earned scholarships that enabled him to study art at the Bath Academy of Art in England and Edinburgh University in Scotland. In 1979, while working as an artist in London, he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship and was appointed artist-in-residence at Arizona State University.

In 1990, he moved to Atlanta, but Camille Love, now the director of the city of Atlanta's Bureau of Cultural Affairs, was already familiar with his work. "Donald had previously introduced himself to me by letter, and I had shown some of his work at my gallery even before his arrival. He was highly intelligent and informed, and he showed that in everything he created."

In addition to his artwork here, Mr. Locke also taught courses at the Atlanta College of Art and Georgia State University.

Larry Walker of Lithonia, former director of the art program at GSU but now retired, said Mr. Locke taught fascinating courses in drawing and design.

"Donald loved to talk," he said. "He had an interesting voice that captured students' attention. Depending on what triggered the conversation, he'd tell one story after another about artists, their techniques, their motivations, their place in history."

Survivors include his wife, Brenda Locke; two sons, Hew Locke of London and Jonathan Locke of New York City; a daughter, Corinne Locke of New York City; a brother, Aubrey Locke of McDonough, and five grandchildren.