The Art and Legacy of Ronald Lockett

Hey Y’all!

This is an invitation to very special event today, Tuesday, July 19th 6pm – 10:30 at the American Folk Art Museum. I assure you won’t want to miss this. The short story is I have a limited number of tickets (value of $35) to attend an extraordinary event exploring the art and legacy of Ronald Lockett (1965–1998, Bessemer, Alabama).

The Panel and After Party

First, there will a panel of contemporary artists and arts professionals including Cre8tive YouTH*ink’s new friend Kevin Blythe Sampson who will be considering Lockett’s remarkable life and work. A bumping party with live DJ, hors d’oeuvres and plenty to drink will follow the discussion. This event is presented by Young Folk, the young patrons of the American Folk Art Museum. Young Folk also generously provided us our tickets. Organized by Emily Counihan and Donnamarie Baptiste.

Ronald Lockett

Born and raised in Bessemer, Alabama, Lockett learned to paint by watching his older cousin, the celebrated self-taught artist, Thornton Dial (1928–2016), whose work was inspired by the African American tradition of yard displays. Lockett watched as Dial built an incredible body of large-scale paintings coated with tar-thick paint, insight and anger. His work has been described as monumental, propulsive and spirited and that address social injustices such as poverty, the war in Iraq and the African slave trade. Lockett spent a lot of time with Dial, who encouraged him and was the only person who took him seriously.

Lockett on his porch

Lockett always knew he wanted to be an artist, but it wasn’t until his early twenties that turned his attention to making art in earnest. By the time of his death at age thirty-two from HIV/AIDS-related pneumonia, Lockett had produced more than 350 works.

Ronald Lockett went largely unrecognized in his lifetime.

Lockett 3
Ronald Lockett, Timothy (Oklahoma Series) 1995, sheet metal, tin, wire, paint and nails on wood.

Ronald Lockett is now considered the youngest noteworthy southern African American vernacular visual artist. During his life, Lockett agonized over the plight of inner-city city black males—whose loudest cultural sign is the fear they provoke throughout American society. Working within the artistic traditions of found materials, Lockett addressed subjects of racial, economic, and political unrest, including the unfulfilled promises of the civil rights movement and environmental degradation.

Lockett 2
Untitled, circa 1985, tin, nails and pencil on woo

Sign Language

New York, NY – Cre8tive YouTH*ink, in collaboration with the Quinlan Development Group and Lonicera Partners, is pleased to announce the completion of “The Art School Without Walls, Vol. 6,” featuring street artists Chris Stain and Billy Mode, a project providing creative arts mentorship to 15 inner-city youths (ages 15 – 22) in a two-month-long mural workshop.

The group’s work ultimately resulted in a large-scale (45’ x 80’) permanent site-specific mural titled Sign Language. The image was inspired by a photo from Martha Cooper’s – “Street Play Project” (1978), her eloquent photo series that poignantly captures the resiliency of inner-city youths amid the bleak backdrop of a blighted 1970s New York City. Sign Language spans upward from the 2nd to the 7th floors of 267 Pacific Street in full view from the busy intersection of Smith Street and Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn.

Sign Language by Cre8tive YouTH*ink featuring Chris Stain and Billy Mode. Located at 267 Pacific Street, Boerum Hill, Brooklyn Photo: Mista Oh
Sign Language by Cre8tive YouTH*ink featuring Chris Stain and Billy Mode. Located at 267 Pacific Street, Boerum Hill, Brooklyn  Photo: Mista Oh

The Project

Street artists Chris Stain and Billy Mode led the Cre8tive YouTH*ink group of apprentice artists through all aspects of mural making – engaging them in the process of planning and producing a large-scale public art project. Pre-production meetings took place at the Ray Smith Studio in Gowanus, Brooklyn. Production took place at the group’s temporary headquarters, a large studio in the Industry City Complex located in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.

Chris Stain Mural Pre-Planning Meeting at Ray Smith Studio in Gowanus Photo: Mista Oh
Chris Stain mural pre-planning Meeting at Ray Smith Studio in Gowanus Photo: Mista Oh

At the studio at Industry City

During the course of eight weeks, the group used a variety of media to prepare the one hundred 4’ x 8’ “Hardie Board” composite panels that make up the mural. Once completed, the panels were permanently installed by the skilled craftsmen of the Janbar Construction Company onto the exterior wall of a new residential building located at 267 Pacific Street in the Boerum Hill Section of Brooklyn. The building is currently being developed by The Quinlan Development Group and Lonicera Partners.

Social Media

In addition to the visual arts apprentices involved in the making of the mural, this project also featured three social media apprentices who documented the mural’s progress. The social media group Instagrammed and Facebooked the project’s progress – and generated a total of 11 blog posts for the Niborama creative arts blog. Check out the Cre8tive YouTH*ink youth arts blog coordinated by Robin Cembalest, at

Social Media Intern Alex Mahany with Robin Cembalest of Niborama. Photo: Vince Maximin
Social Media Intern Alex Mahany with Robin Cembalest of Niborama. Photo: Vince Maximin

All of the apprentice artists received stipends and Metrocards to defray living costs during the project. They were also provided breakfast, lunch and an afternoon snack on their scheduled workdays.

Food Service

Food service was provided by Ninja Bubble Tea who kept the crew well fed throughout the project and the bubble tea flowing.


Materials used to paint the mural panels included Sherwin-Williams exterior latex and Montana 94 spray paints with Sherwin-Williams Sher-Clear acrylic industrial marine clear overcoat for protection from the elements.

About Chris Stain

Chris Stain grew up in Baltimore.  He was introduced to art through graffiti – via books like Subway Art by Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant, movies like Wild Style, Style Wars, Beat Street, and rap records that featured graffiti lettering on their covers.

Starting with the printmaking he learned in high school, Stain later adapted the stenciling techniques for which he has now become well known. Reminiscent of the American Social Realist movement of the 1930s and 40s, his large-scale stencil street art aims to dignify the struggles of unrecognized and underrepresented people in society.

Chris Stain. Photo: ArrestedMotion.Com
Chris Stain Photo: ArrestedMotion.Com

Kids play heavily in Stain’s work and he likes doing collaborative projects with inner-city youths. Says Stain, “If I can share some creativity with them the way it was freely shared with me, it may just help them get through some of the tougher times in life. Self-expression is a powerful self-healer.”

Stain currently teaches art in New York City’s public schools and is pursuing a degree in Art Education at Queens College. Recent commissions include Annie, a mural for Columbia Motion Pictures in New York, and Betting on Someday, painted at Aqueduct Raceway in Queens with Katherine Huala.

About Billy Mode

Billy Mode is a Baltimore artist who credits his personal style to his early training in 1980s graffiti movement. His other influences include sacred geometry, micro/macrocosm parallels, and designs that exist in nature.

Mode fuses these concepts with words and phrases from songs, lectures and conversations to create mathematically influenced modular structures that communicate thought-provoking messages.

Billy Mode for The Bushwick Collective (photo © Jaime Rojo)
Billy Mode for The Bushwick Collective (photo © Jaime Rojo)

He uses his stencil concepts to create large-scale outdoor murals as well as experimental paintings in the studio.

Mode and Stain are childhood friends who have worked together often.




Chris Stain and Billy Mode: Invent the Future
Collaboration between Chris Stain and Billy Mode: Invent the Future 

About Martha Cooper

Martha Cooper is a documentary photographer who has specialized in shooting urban vernacular art and architecture for over 30 years. Cooper is a major documentarian of the graffiti and street art movements. Born in Baltimore, she earned an art degree from Grinnell College, joined the Peace Corps and taught English in Thailand before motorcycling from Bangkok to London – going on to earn a degree in ethnology from Oxford. She then settled in Manhattan, where she worked as a staff photographer for the New York Post in the 1970s.

Her seminal book Subway Art (Holt Paperbacks, 1988) has been hailed the “Graffiti Bible,” but it is her photo essay book Street Play (2005) that best reflects her commitment to capturing the scrappiness and creativity with which inner-city kids make the best of their surroundings. She is especially taken by the resourcefulness of those “making something from nothing.”The current mural project is inspired by Cooper’s photo of a teenage boy climbing a street lamp pole to retrieve a bicycle tire. It is just this spirit of creativity and aspiration that is reflected in Cre8tive YouTH*ink’s Art School Without Walls projects.

Subway Art by Martha Cooper & Henry Chalfant (1984)
Martha Cooper/Henry Chalfant
From Street Play by Martha Cooper (1978)
by Martha Cooper (1978)







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