Jon Onye Lockard (1932-2015) was a Black American painter, illustrator and educator who taught for decades at both the University of Michigan and its more affordable and (I expect) ethnically diverse (certainly Blacker) neighbor, Washtenaw Community College (technically in Ann Arbor, but more accurately between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti). While his paintings and murals collectively explore Black identity and social change, they’re also (for me, anyway) a master class in marrying realistic portrayals of the human form with striking, near-abstract arrangements of color.
Born in Detroit, Lockard spent his early career as an artist for hire, doing portraits and illustrations for patrons and clients in the traditional manner before settling down to combine his artistic vocation with his passion for education (much like his near-contemporary Shirley Woodson). His most national prominence likely came from his drawing of the 1967 Detroit Uprising, What Are We Going To Tell Them? (Lockard drove to the city on hearing the news and was inspired by conversations he had with young people on the streets).
I first saw his work at a temporary exhibit in U-M’s Fine Arts Library before a more startling encounter at its Museum of Art, in the form of 1988’s Detroit/Soweto Pieta. A haunting rumination on Black motherhood and grief, it’s also an acrylic masterpiece, almost every conceivable kind of brushstroke and color mixture forming the backdrop for a pair of very specifically delineated human figures.
Lockard himself painted and lived according to Sankofa, an Akan proverb apparently translated as “it is not wrong to go back for that which you’ve forgotten.” This is also the title of the present exhibit on his work and life at the Ann Arbor African American Culture and History Museum, presently open on weekends (the exhibit itself will be there for the next few weeks). I finally got to visit on Sunday and greatly enjoyed it. Looking forward to rifling through various online resources, including an exhaustive series of interviews here.
Have a good day, folks.