An exhibition of original art and poetry by prisoners currently on Death Row at San Quentin Prison, California, brought to Buxton by artist, Nicola White, and prisoners' penfriend, Viv Doyle. This is the first UK exhibition of the work outside London.
Created by prisoners as part of the ArtReach programme at the prison the purpose of which is to provide a platform for artists on San Quentin's death row to exhibit their art and creativity, both online and in a variety of exhibition venues and talks. Read more at www.artofsanquentin.com
ArtReach believes that art and poetry has the power and ability to transform thinking, consciousness, behaviour and lives. It also aims to humanise the people incarcerated on death row, utilising art as a vehicle to raise awareness, and to generate debate and discussion about capital punishment.
The art works are for sale
10% of the proceeds will go to a charity supported by the prisoners which is a small way in which they can give something back to society and make reparation from their crimes. The rest will go to the artists themselves to enable them to buy more art materials and to spend on the prison canteen to supplement a fairly meagre diet.
“Art is the journey of a free soul” – Alev Oguz
In April 2015 Nicola White visited her penfriend on San Quentin’s death row, after six years of correspondence. He explained how many inmates use creative expression to escape their present circumstances. ArtReach (reaching out with art and poetry from death row) was born out of the idea of offering these artists a platform to express themselves and to share their art – both online and through exhibitions. Over the past two years, ArtReach has put on seven exhibitions in the UK and one in California, not far from San Quentin.
An artist herself, Nicola uses items foraged from the beaches of the Thames to create collages and sculptures for her Tideline Art. She gives these discarded objects a new purpose and a second chance as works of art. Through ArtReach, she aims to bring those on the fringes of society into the limelight.
“These prisoners have also been discarded and are considered of no use to society, thrown away, forgotten about, and I try to give them another chance, to show them that from a very dark place, some light can get out.” – Nicola White
The exhibition of art and poetry painted and penned from 10ft x 4ft x 7ft cells on death row aims to humanise the prisoners who have been sentenced to death, utilising art as vehicle to raise awareness, and to generate debate and discussion about capital punishment. ArtReach believes that art and poetry has the power and ability to transform thinking, consciousness, behaviour and lives. In doing so, it also helps to connect and engage these artists with the outside world.
Most of the prisoners are self-trained and have discovered their talent for creativity during their incarceration. Artwork and writing is created in their cells, in solitary confinement – not in social areas. They have developed their own styles and in some cases, men use strands of their own hair or feathers as brushes, and paint can be tea, coffee or dye from sweets. Any money made from sales is spent on art materials or canteen to supplement their diet.
The art and poetry provides an insight into the minds of men who are incarcerated in a place designed to dehumanise and take away their identity. Visual expressions of emotions are evident. Inspiration, regrets, happiness, sadness, yearnings, longings... From a place known for death and despair, beautiful art with hope for life can emanate.
In the artists' own words...
Below is a collection of quotes from the prisoners, about their feelings surrounding their artwork and writing.
“These scenes I present to your eyes are the silent movements from a man within a place of confinement. My attempt to seek an original voice out of often cluttered thoughts in my head. I work to maintain sanity within this space” He also says “I am silently yelling through each scene in voices that do not convey all my thoughts” Keith Loker, death row prisoner SQ
“Art has changed me because Im opening up my spirituality to others” Albert Jones
“Art makes me feel free and worth something good in life. It is my pain relief” Bailey Jackson
“Charles paints under the worst of conditions—solitary confinement in a small and cramped prison cell. It is extraordinary that he is able to turn out so much work in spite of these circumstances. Painting transports my client to a magical place, beyond the bars, where his mind freely soars.”Attorney
“For me, art is an attempt to connect with my family and the things I have lost. There is some satisfaction in creating something positive.” Douglas Dworak
“My dream is to become a famous painter” Anthony OIiver
“It makes me feel better and helps to pass some time. It is a distraction from all the pain my situation has caused and is causing” Jerry Frye
“Painting, or writing novels, I have managed to keep dreaming, picturing myself producing works of art in Europe” Tauno Waidla
“Painting is a great joy to me and I want to bring happiness to others” Royal Clark
“It is my liberation and victorious personal journey – a triumph over despair and sadness, a search for the light stamped out in my childhood, now relit in adulthood”. He goes on to say “Writing, like reading, allows me to travel without moving. I’m able to escape the circumscribed mantle of my confinement and connect to the social world I’ve been separated from. Every day I wake up with a central purpose that motivates me to to keep pressing and keep moving forward”. Steve Champion, , San Quentin death row - sentenced to death in 1982, age 18
“Painting, like any art form, whether it’s the performing art or the written art form, creates a focus and a meditative state of mind. I think, why the prisoners paint has to do with healing internal sounds and resolving inner conflicts within themselves and trying to find some redemptive value in their own life. I also think they create art because it comes from a primal need to express themselves in a meaningful way. In many cases these prisoners never had an opportunity to do that” Steve Champion, San Quentin death row - sentenced to death in 1982, age 18
“Art is the journey of a free soul” – Alev Oguz