Thomas Locker was so prolific that it felt like he could have an entire art-and-literature column dedicated solely to his work. A painter who worked in homage to the great sublime tradition of Hudson River painting, Locker’s work may end up inspiring as many due to the effortless fashion in which he applied his art to children’s-book versions of everything Catskillian and Hudsonian, from Rip Van Winkle to Herman Melville.
Locker passed away on March 9, a little over a week away from the opening of his latest one-man show of new works at the Mark Gruber Gallery in New Paltz. “He achieved a sublime, deep and rich glow in his landscapes through the use of layer upon layer of thin, transparent glazes. Patient though prolific, Thomas Locker pursued this nearly lost art with verve, élan and sophistication,” noted Gruber, his long-time gallerist and friend. “Able to convey the grandness of nature in any size he chose to work in, working large was his forte. His large-scale paintings best evoke the strong emotion, spirituality and sublimity he found in the glory of nature.”
Locker’s books have taught my six-year-old the brave story of the boy who saved the dikes in old Holland, and how water can flow from a field spring to the ocean. The calm in his illustrations, as well as his fondness for natural detail, have sent us into woods and riverside landscapes searching for the same inspiration that caught him, year in and year out – but that also kept Locker striving for an even better rendering of what inspired him.
That he was never quite satisfied was to his readers’ and collectors’ benefit, as Locker kept returning to beloved sites to render them yet again in his inimitable large-stroke style that prized luminosity over darkness, and valued intimately epic storytelling attributes. His was not contemporary art, but a direct line back to an older heritage for which he gained respect via his diligence and practiced talents.
“When he spoke at the Thomas Cole National Historic Site a few years ago, the audience was deeply moved by his wisdom and his enormous heart,” Cedar Grove executive director Elizabeth Jacks said in an interview upon Locker’s passing this week. “It’s mind-boggling to think of how many lives he has changed with his ability to inspire.”
There will be an opening reception on Saturday, March 24 from 6 to 8 p.m. for “Thomas Locker: New Work” at the Mark Gruber Gallery. The public is invited to join the Gallery in a respectful celebration of Locker’s life and work and these, his final paintings. The show runs through May 12. The Mark Gruber Gallery is located in the New Paltz Plaza. For more information, call (845) 255-1241 or visit www.markgrubergallery.com.