Sheridan Prize for Art

 

Whereas some of the artworks entered into the ‘Incarcerated’ category depict a much bleaker picture of confinement behind bars (e.g. Christopher Spencer’s claustrophobic Cell 3 coolly documents an inmate’s cramped living quarters identified as ‘Death Row 4’ scrawled in white-silvery paint above the closed metal cage) Keith Loker’s dazzling ink drawings of high end cars strive for expansiveness, speed, and open air freedom far outside the prison walls (all the way from San Quentin to the East Coast in New York Skyline, where a ridiculously long ritzy vehicle that’s morphed into part Rolls Royce/Bentley and part racing car with large, fat tires, stands in showroom-like isolation as the New York skyline looms tantalizingly in the distance. If there were beautiful people standing beside this upper-crust object of desire, it might be mistaken for a scene from Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous).

The automobile has always been a potent symbol of speed, status, power, wealth and especially freedom for American males in particular. Porsche, Loker’s winning entry, offers a highly artful flight of fantasy and mental escape from the grim reality of life behind bars on death row (Drawing provides an outlet “while locked in this 4 x 8 x 10 cell closet,” as he puts it. Never mind that he’s chosen to immortalize a French dream machine instead of an American one). In Loker’s meticulous ink stippled drawing, Robert Bechtle’s Photorealism meets Georges Seurat’s pointillism (In another entered piece, My Mother’s Thoughts, Loker even draws a pointillist faux ‘frame’ around his montage ode to his mom like the ones Seurat occasionally adorned his paintings and drawings). But whereas Bechtle would have painted utilitarian vehicles (a family station wagon) along with his children and the neighborhood pets (He lived up the street from me while I was growing up. I still recognize some of his subjects when I see them in galleries or museums), Loker’s Porsche is the sleek and shiny equivalent of a bachelor pad.

As was often the case with the Photorealists, Loker most likely started out by copying a photograph (perhaps a Porsche advertisement). Although the artist hints that his goal is to have his drawing resemble a black-and-white photograph as closely as possible, the results are highly abstract and that’s what make it more compelling than a photograph. Porsche finds a lone male behind the wheel inside this sporty metal shell. The entire windshield appears shattered, but this broken glass look is probably more a byproduct of the stippling technique itself rather than a record of some past accident.

If Loker’s curvaceous sportscar doesn’t exactly spark a dead man’s curve careening out of control aura, there is a faint life in the fast lane out for a joy ride sensibility at play. This airy outdoor scene is at once static even as it implies traveling at high speed. Strong diagonals where the rubber meets the road suggest motion, as does the slight blurring of the hubcaps). The only thing missing here is the driver’s hair blowing in the wind. His Porsche has just rounded a fairly sharp curve. Skeletal trees behind the vehicle sway and bend, appearing to be on the verge of dematerializing like something out of a low-tech video game. Grayish haze becomes a progressively denser jet black thicket in front of the driver’s head as the vehicle is trailed by winged blotches that distantly evoke the great Spanish (sur)realist Francisco Goya’s ghouls and goblins or Van Gogh’s crows.

Even though Loker describes his technique as “tedious” (thousands of tiny dots meticulously placed to create an hyper realist illusion of an automobile), one can also imagine the very process of applying these ink molecules generating a Zen-like calm inside his prison cell (or wherever he actually does his drawings) as the automobile slowly came into being. “My creations will reflect the things and places I love and was once able to be part of…“ Even as he is forced to spend the bulk of his days and nights confined inside a tiny cell, through his highly conceptual art, Loker has achieved a freedom of sorts and a means of momentarily escaping the hell hole existence of prison. Although it seems unlikely now, perhaps someday Loker, like his fantasy dream machine, will once again find himself on the open road to freedom and be able to revisit the people and places he loves.

~Harry Roche