May 13, 2014–January 8, 2017

Bessemer, Alabama


Rusted sheet metal, with nails

53 1/4 x 51 x 5 1/2"

Collection American Folk Art Museum, New York

Gift of Ron and June Shelp, 2012.18.3

Photo by Gavin Ashworth

Ronald Lockett (1965-1998)

Fever Within

Ronald Lockett spent many hours at the house of his great-grandmother Sarah Dial Lockett, who also raised her nephew, renowned African American artist Thornton Dial. The Dials became an extended family for Lockett, whose parents divorced when he was young, and they encouraged his art-making. Lockett lived in Bessemer all his brief life, which was tragically shortened by an AIDS-related pneumonia. His art is filled with autobiographical references, social implications related to the black experience, and environmental concerns. As reported by author Paul Arnett, he “was intensely concerned with eschatology, which is the study of the end of things, whether the end of an individual life, the end of the age, or the end of the world.” This notion is brilliantly embedded in the oxidized tin Lockett used for a late series of works. The material, which he salvaged from a decrepit tin barn once owned by the Dials, “was the DNA of the story his art had always told. . . .The autumnal colors and blotchy decay of the rust/paint suggest continual rebirth.” The figure in the center of Fever Within—made of nailed strips of tin—apparently represents a woman that Lockett knew from his AIDS clinic who was fighting the disease. This is the third piece in a series that depicts a similar subject. Coincidentally, the silhouette recalls the posture and inner world of the naked woman in the famous Renaissance masterpiece The Tempest by Giorgione, and it summons the mysterious atmosphere of that philosophic-poetic painting.

Valérie Rousseau, “Fever Within,” exhibition label for Self-Taught Genius: Treasures from the American Folk Art Museum. Stacy C. Hollander and Valérie Rousseau, curators. New York: American Folk Art Museum, 2014.