Amulets and omens

Donald Locke's human forms range from spooky to sweet

The faux-folk genre is one of the least appealing aspects of the local art scene, but the irrepressible cuteness of Donald Locke's primitive action figures somehow gets under your skin.

Using combinations of humble, found materials, like tree branches and scraps of fabric and bone, Locke's human and animal forms range from sweet to scary. The larger sculptures in the opening room of Solomon Projects are slightly more "Blair Witch" menacing. The faceless figure, "Joe Potaro, Saga Boy," looks like RuPaul's bad-juju cousin with a shock of blond ponytail and a blank face of animal fur. "Stuartville Witch" is another fright mask, a tarry goblin composed of wax, artificial hair and various accoutrements with a shriveled apple gape. But overall, the good kids seem to outnumber the meanies in Locke's kit and caboodle.

It's hard not to imagine some playful element involved in crafting these part-African sculpture, part-Mr. Potato Head creatures, with their sweet, pin-dot eyes and oddly amputated bodies. They include a kind-eyed pony titled "Little Horse," which has a stump in place of a body like a child's riding toy, and "Salome — Before the Dance," a saucy scenario in which a gaping male figure gazes up a leg in a skirt like a patron in the front row of the Clermont.

Though most of the sculptures are representational, the occasional whatzit is mixed in, like one object that looks like something from a caveman's sex shop. The guy-artist-playing-with-dolls element is amplified by the huge white table set out with about 30 of the little figures, which create a fanciful driftwood-and-antler circus, suggesting Alexander Calder's famous big- top figures gone native. The carefree exhibition of these figures is a definite improvement on the totemic, art-object display in the gallery entrance, which makes works that should be playful feel pretentious.

With their ad hoc composition inviting associations with walking sticks, voodoo dolls and tourist-market tchotchkes, these works somehow unite a "primitive" world of the imagination (the artist's and the viewers') and a more knowing, Western influence, that could be perceived as either folk-slumming or a flight from the contemporary, the sleek and the controlled.

Donald Locke: From the Altars of El Dorado runs through Aug. 3 at Solomon Projects, 1037 Monroe Drive. Tues.-Sat. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. 404-875-7100. www.solomonprojects.com.??

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