Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Prison Project

I am currently working on what may be my most interesting project to date. I have had many plans and ideas for a new show that would really have value and purpose. I want to create something that viewers can be a part of and feel they have truly gained a new vantage-point on the world. While lots of artists are passionate about politics or social issues, I am less so. My greatest passions are my faith and my artwork. And though the centuries of Western civilization produced absolutely amazing art, I feel that a great deal of contemporary faith-based work is less than impressive. This is not as much of a judgement on other works as it is a caution to myself: if I am going to ask people from all walks of life to view a show inspired by my Christian beliefs, then it better be worth their time.

Let me back up. A few years ago I noticed that fellow members of the art community as well as a large portion of secular society see only flaws and negative aspects in Christianity. Faith inspired work, specifically Christian work, immediately has a negative connotation. I feel that this discussion happens in ignorance. This is no more evident than in pop-culture. I could probably list 10 movies in which the bad guy or ultimate evil is some member of clergy. Now don't get me wrong... humans are flawed and therefore so is the church. There have been terrible things done "in the name of Christ." But I feel that these bad events in history are far out-numbered and should be outweighed by amazing displays of love, selflessness, and charity. Ironically these positive stories are the ones that go untold and are forgotten in society's discussion. These truths inspired this series of paintings from 2008. "The Lesser Apostles" is a group of contemporary, relatively unknown Christian figures who did absolutely amazing things for the world, both Christian and non. If you do not recognize the men, do not feel bad. You are not alone. Very few people to view the works know any of these men, and almost no one knows all three.

I painted the three men with flat gold leaf halos, like that of the saints shown in Byzantine artwork, in reference to my love for art history and as a visual symbol of their faith. Each halo has personalized symbols that help tell the story the the man's life and faith.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu is probably the most recognizable of the three men. He is still alive and his services have come most recently in history. Tutu has always defended human rights and campaigned for the oppressed. He has campaigned to fight AIDS, tuberculosishomophobiatransphobia, poverty and racism. He also helped end the apartheid in South Africa. Tutu received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984, the Albert Schweitzer Prize for Humanitarianism in 1986, the Pacem in Terris Award in 1987, the Sydney Peace Prize in 1999, the Gandhi Peace Prize in 2005, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009. 
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran pastor who lived and preached in Germany during WWII. Bonhoeffer was openly against the Nazi movement. When the Nazis took control of his homeland he fled to the United States. He felt that hiding was not the solution and proactively returned to Europe. There he helped Jews, wrote many works on Christianity, and even helped plot an assassination attempt on Hitler. He was ultimately executed for his cause.

Frank Laubach was a missionary to the Philippines in 1935. Known as "The Apostles to the Illiterates", Laubach developed a literacy program called "Each One Teach One." His desire to give people the ability to read the Bible has taught over 60 million people to read and write in their own language.

It blows my mind that many people, like these men can change and help the world so greatly without recognition or acknowledgment.


So now I am working on a new show. I have felt that there is a need right now in our country for a greater human connection. I believe there are lots of people who are consistently forgotten or ignored. I have not fully explored where I want this project to go. But I have decided the group of people I want to reach. Prisoners are, in my opinion, one the most, if not the most recluse members of society. Actually they are not even members of society at all. My belief is not that we should all simply pardon every crime ever committed and all prisoners should be released back into the world. My belief is just that these people should not be forgotten. As our Heavenly father will never abandon us, we too should not give up on one another. I heard a prison chaplain once say that the only difference between himself and the prisoners he serves is that the sins he commits are not against the laws of our country.

So in my desire to connect with prisoners, I have been helping an inmate lead an art class... in prison. Once or twice a week I drive out to the prison, go through security checks, have the fence close behind me, and teach art.  

My plan is a very organic one. It continues to change week by week. Nothing in prison goes exactly as I foresee. Eventually, a select few inmates will join me in creating works for a show on the outside (which they will not be able to attend). My focus will be on relationships and brotherly love. Each inmate will also have a message that they wish to convey to the world outside the fence. 

At the moment the inmates and myself are learning some technique and draftsmanship. 

The warden has also allowed us to paint many of the walls of the prison. Here are some of the murals we have been working on.

I am very excited about the project. I look forward to updating this blog about where everything is heading. 


  1. Wonderful idea, I bet you are really making a difference in these inmate's lives

  2. Beautiful skills, artistry! Impressive and worthy mission adding so much richness to lives that are being rebuilt/refocused. Wow!