Instinct for Survival

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    Photo: Stephen Pitkin/Pitkin Studio
Chicken wire, wood, industrial sealing compound, enamel, on wood
48 x 68 inches
Collection of
The Studio Museum in Harlem
Gift of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation

Lockett’s Smoke-Filled Sky and Traps series set the stage for a profound shift in his art in 1993. As he continued to experiment and reflect on the expressive goals of his art, however, his attention shifted to the uncertain fate of his brother David, who was taken prisoner in the opening days of the Persian Gulf War, a concern Lockett rendered visible: “Instinct for Survival was a picture about my brother. It was during the time of the Persian Gulf War. He was lost and we thought he was dead over there. My mother, she had a nervous breakdown. . . . Once we got word that he was alive then I began to make this picture called Instinct for Survival. Later on, we got some bad news, that they hadn’t really found him over there, they made a mistake and later on they found him at a POW camp. Later on, when the war was over with, they freed him and he came home. That is basically where I got the idea.”

With its black ground painted on board and the outline of an antlered buck standing in a blasted landscape, Instinct for Survival continued the stylistic direction achieved in the Smoke-Filled Sky works, extending the avatar of the deer from Traps to embrace his brother. Erect and vigilant, the buck radiates strength and confidence tempered with wariness—and with it Lockett’s hopefulness that his brother’s inner strength would pull him through his ordeal. —Bernard L. Herman