In preparation for the reviews that follow, the five incarcerated artists in focus—Juan Luna, Joseph Dole, Devon Daniels, Darrell Fair, and Michael Sullivan—submitted handwritten notes detailing, from memory, the current locations of their existing artworks. As is the case for incarcerated artists across the United States, who have limited access to storage in mortuary facilities, the products of each person’s artistic career are largely in scattered archives maintained by loved ones outside the prison walls. Works by the five artists were borrowed from mothers and former professors, sent to us in .jpg form by friends, and plucked from websites lovingly maintained by outside allies.
The majority of the artwork covered by Lori Waxman—art critic for the Chicago Tribune, who agreed to write these reviews as part of her ongoing 60 wrd/min art critic project—was made in collaboration with the Prison + Neighborhood Arts/Education Project, ‘ A justice-centered art and education program runs out of the Statesville Correctional Center, where all five artists live. In addition to offering courses ranging from studio art and poetry to gender studies and political theory, PNAP facilitates a think tank, organizes public art projects, and offers a degree program in collaboration with Northeastern Illinois University called University Without Walls.
Although all five artists work within similar material constraints, this series of artworks represents a range of individual concerns and styles. Most inevitably serve as a rallying cry against the apparatus of harm that has arisen from the United States’ overreliance on criminal justice. These reviews and other collective projects organized by PNAP are intended to serve as a bridge between those living behind prison walls, their systems of support at home and a wider public dedicated to a world less dependent is of captivity. (Gabrielle Christiansen)
There is no question about the causes of Juan Luna’s artwork: bring parole back to Illinois, expand the vote to the formerly incarcerated, get vaccinated, end solitary confinement, stop ICE deportations, know your rights. His drawings and prints are bold, their statements made in strong words and clear imagery. Their sincerity is palpable. Many have a human touch — a hand holding the can that sprays “Parole Illinois,” a woman in an apron knocking down the border wall, an immigrant standing in front of an official — because these are people who lives are at stake. Even Luna’s “Get Vaxxed” campaign implies this, with a heart thorn-rose-ribbon combo that, if it weren’t pencil on paper, would be tattooed on a bicep. These are messages that need to be said and said out loud. Fortunately some are. Luna’s co-designed image of an African-American student literally breaking the school-to-prison pipeline in his young hands was painted by community members as an outdoor mural at the DuSable Museum in 2021. The backpack, colored and lettered with middle school flair, the backpack-wearing child stands at the vanishing point of a row of lockers and a wall of cell bars. I dare anyone not to care.
Lori Waxman, 2022-08-29 14:12
Life imprisonment is one of the great cruelties of American civilization. So grotesque as to be almost unimaginable, if it is ever going to be remedied, it must first be visualized, a task that Joe Dole, co-founder of Parole Illinois and an inmate for nearly twenty-five years, accomplishes through activist artworks of varied emotional influence. He can be funny, as in a trio of bold posters criticizing former Cook County prosecutor Anita Alvarez, in which she buries “FOIA,” the Freedom of Information Act, and has a beauty cabinet with bottles of “white laundry.” and a trash can. full of “police accountability”. He can be powerfully lucid, as in a pair of infographics that lay out horrifying data on the increase in prison populations since Illinois abolished parole in 1978. He can be disturbing, as in a hand-drawn animation of the multi-artist “Freedom/Time” video, which depicts a man aging and dying behind bars while his daughter grows up on the outside, gets married and has a baby back in the prison delivered. And in a recent painting depicting his cell view—an infinite grid of bars over barbed wire over more bars, with little squares of sky blue visible on top—Dole echoes the jazziness of Piet Mondrian’s “Broadway Boogie-Woogie” with his very own indomitable lyricism.
Lori Waxman, 2022-08-30 14:00
Is there a more intimate medium for portraiture than pencil on paper? I believe that this is true for sketches and caricatures, but especially for photorealistic drawings, where every pore of the skin, every strand of hair, proves the careful observation and deliberate marks of the artist. Consider the work of Devon Daniels, who first discovered drawing while in prison and continues to practice it after twenty-five years on the inside. His likenesses of Kerry James Marshall, Dr. Margaret Burroughs, Nipsey Hussle and Malcolm X reveal respect and affinity on the part of the artist, as expressed by the considerable time, patience and care required to execute such meticulous images. To make a picture in this style is to express admiration or devotion through graphite, much as Charles White did for his African-American subjects, just as Vija Celmins does for the night sky. Daniels, not unlike Celmins, must represent his beloved subjects at a distance – him from behind bars, she can see the sky but never touch it – but in the act of representation that distance is hopefully, at least partially, breached.
Lori Waxman, 08-31-2022 12:13 p.m
What can one individual, required by tough-on-crime laws to complete all fifty years of his sentence, offer from behind bars? Through his artwork, Darrell Fair contributes to a large and diverse community. Inspired by the devastating poetry of Jumah al Dossari, a Bahraini citizen who was wrongfully held in Guantanamo for five years, Fair drew a sanguine counter-image, imagining the tender reunion of a captive man and his long-lost wife, who find each other in ‘ capture a landscape from anywhere. repeating patterns. Moved by the experience of a cellmate, who watched a fatal hostage situation involving his daughter unfold on the television news – and was later denied permission to attend her funeral – Fair hand-drawn an animated series that heartbreaking alienation explained to be cut off from family. And in two co-designed, community-painted murals, he provides neighborhood improvement of the most meaningful kind: in North Lawndale, a reminder that strong children are the “faces of hope”; in Washington Park, a tribute to dr. Margaret Burroughs who insists, through Fair’s image of a clock spiraling, that the time—for justice, for community, for beauty—is now.
Lori Waxman, 2022-09-02 12:57 pm
The meaning of a still life is traditionally communicated via standardized symbolic elements. This can certainly be taught in an art history class, but much can be witnessed simply by looking, thinking and feeling. Mike Sullivan draws and paints tender and moving still life pictures, images whose meaning is complicated by knowing that he has been incarcerated for more than thirty years, during which he earned degrees and helped draft House Bill 2541, which provides for non-partisan voter education as part of the IDOC exit process. A basket of freshly picked apples, the leaves still green, sketched so neatly in colored pencil; a vase of cut flowers, in full bloom, smoothly painted in oils; two happy, pressing grandchildren, eagerly etched in pencil—Sullivan can touch these familiar subjects, share them, know them through the artwork’s pictorial plane, but not directly with his own hands. And hands are vital: for everyone, but especially an artist, a sentiment Sullivan depicts without sparing in pointillist style, with a few palms inked, deeply scarred, their wounds coming together to form the peace symbol. As wounds, with enough time, care and resources, can do.
Lori Waxman, 2022-09-06 14:04