KC Lockrem: The soul’s choosing | AspenTimes.com

KC Lockrem: The soul’s choosing

Stewart Oksenhorn
Aspen Times Weekly
Jordan Curet The Aspen Times
ALL | The Aspen Times

Charla Cannon has much she could complain about. The 88-year-old, who lives in Denver, has neuropathy, which causes pain and disability in her legs, and macular degeneration, which is having a dramatic effect on her vision.

“And she’s my role model. We call her Sparky,” says her granddaughter KC Lockrem, a 36-year-old Carbondale resident who appears to be in sound physical shape. “Because her life is full of such sunshine. Because she’s grateful to be alive.”

In her art, Lockrem, like her grandmother, has opted to move toward the positive. Her multi-media collage paintings feature scraps of images, which combine to hint at an uplifting narrative. There are flowers and pieces from board games; grinning cats and a grinning Gandhi; samples of her children’s handwriting. The pieces come with names like “You Are Loved, All Is Well.” The predominant color in these endlessly colorful creations is pink; most of the works also include an element of gold leaf. The works are collaged, then painted, and finally coated in a resin that gives them a luminous quality. Lockrem describes the effect as a “candy-coated quality. Glossy and luscious.”

The question, then, is how Lockrem can give the art an emotional depth, rather than a thin, smiley-face veneer. If it isn’t in her colors, or the imagery, where would it come from?

To Lockrem, the range of emotions, including the darker ones, are embedded in her process. Her art, she says, does not deny the misery of the world, nor is it an escape from it. Instead, it is meant to remind viewers that there are options, that there is an element of choice in our emotional realities. In making her art, she considers the gloomier side of things ” early in our recent conversation, among the first things she mentioned were war, prejudice and abuse ” and include them in her psyche. She then consciously chooses transcendence.

“You Are Loved, All Is Well,” for example, is one of the works featured in the current show at the Harvey/Meadows Gallery, at Aspen Highlands Village. The piece was triggered by a phone call with a friend; both the friend and the friend’s mother were having health issues. Lockrem’s initial response was to wish away those problems ” and then she reconsidered, not so much because she didn’t possess such magical powers, but because she saw that maybe there was something to be gained from the not-so-pleasant experience. She retreated to her Carbondale studio, and began making “You Are Loved, All Is Well.”

“I wanted to snap my fingers and make it all well,” said Lockrem, wearing a pair of big hoop, peace-sign earrings, and revealing a tattoo of the Grateful Dead dancing bears on her waist. “Then I started this painting, and began to see my thought pattern was askew. Who am I to say that this isn’t part of their growth, that they wouldn’t learn something form their pain? I look at my kids and think, if they don’t have all these experiences, you’ll have a shallow existence. With pain and conflict you learn compassion and gratitude.”

In “A Marriage of Everything,” stuck in among butterflies, the kids’ doodles and the word “FUN,” is a skull, certainly Lockrem’s least cuddly visual icon.

“What I’m really dealing with in this picture is how I view myself in this world today,” she said. “The things that might seem absurd to me ” war, prejudice, abuse ” I have to stand back and realize our world is full not only of conflict, but also of seeking of the miraculous. The yin and the yang. The beauty that is always there. It’s how you choose to focus your life.”

Regarding the skull as a symbol of death, Lockrem prefers the view that death is not necessarily the bitter end, but another step in the life process: “It’s the soul’s choosing, the soul’s growth. On a soul level, they might be growing leaps and bounds.”

Lockrem was born and raised in Denver; by high school, she had located her twin passions ” art and barrel racing. She excelled at art, making landscapes and figurative works and horse paintings, but a summer after her junior year spent at the Rhode Island School of Design revealed the bigger world outside of Denver. “I went, Holy man! I’ve got to get on my game here,” she said. (That seriousness of mind didn’t prevent Lockrem from taking time off to hitchhike from Rhode Island to Foxboro, Mass., to attend a Grateful Dead show.)

In enrolling at the University of Arizona, she chose to focus on her other love, and joined the rodeo team. Lockrem quickly realized that her creative side wasn’t being sufficiently nourished, and she transferred for a year to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. But the administration, she says, was dissatisfied and uninspired, and a teacher advised her to head to New York, so she attended the School of Visual Arts in the mid-’90s. For several years, she bounced from Los Angeles to Wyoming to Denver, alternately pursuing her art and wrangling.

It was in her latest Denver stint that she met her husband, Bobby Lockrem, a realtor with Sotheby’s. Seven years ago, the couple relocated to Carbondale, where they are raising their three children, aged between 3 and 6.

A good bit of that story can be glimpsed in Lockrem’s paintings. The works are arranged in a subtle grid fashion, meant to represent paths taken and explored. Most visible in this narrative is Lockrem’s role as a mother, with her kids’ sketches, handwriting and toys.

“That represents the cellular level, the DNA makeup of different routes we have chosen to make up who we are,” said Lockrem of the grids. “They’re almost like the plains of history within us.” Of the images she chooses, Lockrem says, “that’s the narrative that plays out like a script of this life we’re choosing to create.”

Probably more significant than the specific images she uses are the color tones, which she says represent “the vitality of life, the energy field.” Among these is the gold leaf. “That’s the moment of the panning for gold, when we allow the divine to actually move through us. The treasure is who we are.”

By emphasizing grace, the divine, the better aspects of the human spirit in her paintings, Lockrem aims to remind people that those qualities are available. If her octogenarian grandmother with the failing body can maintain an upbeat outlook, so can many others.

“That’s what I realize ” if you focus on all the pain and suffering in the world, it doesn’t make it go away,” she said. “If you focus on the love and light and joy of the here and now, that’s truly where the world can expand in a joyous way.

“It’s like tending the garden. There are weeds. But you stay on top of them, and the fragrances can be forever.”