Visual Arts

John Lackey's three-part exhibit 'Trilobite' on display at Gallery Hop

John Lackey’s print, of a creek by Sheltowee Trace at the Red River Gorge, is one part of a 3-part work, Trilobite, which can be seen at Gallery Hop.
John Lackey’s print, of a creek by Sheltowee Trace at the Red River Gorge, is one part of a 3-part work, Trilobite, which can be seen at Gallery Hop.

Five days before the Gallery Hop debut of his latest exhibit, Trilobite, artist John Lackey is hard at work on the last two pieces in a three-piece show.

Standing in front of two 4 foot-by-5 foot canvases, where a half-finished woodland landscape is swallowing a backdrop of enigmatic, almost dreamlike figures, Lackey grins and says, "I'm painting myself into a corner."

And he literally is.

Lackey's palette of bright acrylics and the looming canvas is set up in the front corner of his studio space on the corner of Sixth Street and North Limestone.

The home of Spalding's Bakery for more than 70 years, the building has been renovated to be an art gallery and printmaking studio for Lackey's commercial printmaking venture, Homegrown Press.

Lackey's printmaking work forms one point of the triangle that is Trilobite, with a stop-action film of a fluid painting in motion and the finished painting itself serving as the other two points.

The trio of works — one print, one movie, one painting — represent the intersection of separate but related aspects of Lackey's evolution as an artist.

The print, a sprawling, gnarly landscape of a creek near Sheltowee Trace at the Red River Gorge, will fittingly serve as the 2011 Governor's Award in the Arts.

"It took a week to get the image on the block," he says of the Governor's Award, "then 24 long days of carving, then 21/2 days of hand-painting watercolor to color in the image."

The intricate, labor-intensive work is just another feather in the cap of Lackey's successful printmaking venture, whose clients include the Kentucky State Parks, the University Press of Kentucky, Terrapin Hill Farms, the Holler Poets Series, and the acclaimed rock band Wilco.

Lackey's work for Wilco landed him an invitation to a private concert by frontman Jeff Tweedy this spring, an informal "living room show" of requests and new songs.

"He told a few people later that they weren't averse to putting out music videos," Lackey says. "I told him I had been working on some stop-action video kind of stuff."

Tweedy was interested in seeing Lackey's film venture, which led to the second component of Trilobite.

"I didn't really have anything that would really tweak the band's interest," Lackey says. "So in painting a new spring landscape picture, I duct-taped a cheap tripod to the lid of a cheap trash can, and mounted my point-and-click to the top of it, and just started painting a little, then clicking."

To achieve a fluid, video effect, Lackey has to paint over and over his own work, moving the landscape images upward in 2-inch strips.

The painting that results at the end of the film is the third and final element of the show.

The painting's subject evolved organically, a wild and loose creative approach that is markedly different from his precision carvings as a printmaker and indicative of his willingness to embrace artistic risk and change.

Lackey is painting on a deadline and with bold inspiration, a feat that requires focus, endurance and more than a little daring — traits he gleaned from a jack-of-all-trades father, John Lackey III, a retired teacher who taught history, math and guitar and coached football, basketball and chess at Sayre School and James Lane Allen Elementary School in Lexington.

Lackey cites the endurance of sports and the cunning of chess as just two ways that his father, who is now battling Alzheimer's disease, helped to prepare him for a career in the arts.

"He gave me a lot of great tools," Lackey says. "No wonder he was everyone's favorite teacher."