A few years ago, during one of my first visits to
several prisons throughout the east and mid United States, I asked
the warden on seeing the cramped small cells if memory
was a prisoners largest dimension of space? He replied, Memory
is the first dimension of space that the prisoner loses.
My initial interest in exploring this landscape of
confinement is as a painter of landscape and evolved out of exhibiting
my paintings in a medical setting where patients had very serious
illnesses. Although I was struck by the responses, I was struck
more by the realization that my work was in a space where the viewer
was not only challenged by that space but also defined by that space.
It seemed to me that the most extreme example of this ontological
aspect of space is prison. Whoever one is, doctor, lawyer, artist,
one is defined as a prisoner in prison. I wanted to know what would
happen if I put my work, those landscapes of very personal place,
into the space of prison: a box within a box. Do these metaphoric
personal places become annihilated by the larger space, or do the
paintings create place within this institutionalized space? And
if so, how? Since the project started three years ago, I have donated
over 80 paintings to prisons and have had exhibitions in several
prisons. At one prison I donated 47 large paintings that now hang
throughout the prisoners blocks.
In additions to these exhibitions and donations, I
conduct workshops with the prisoners. While the focus of these workshops
is learning about art, I use landscape as a means for
the prisoners to explore the potential of place through reconstructing
the elements of any landscape. What are those basic visual cues
that connect person to place?
When one is not free to physically explore space and
when space is consistently transparent (instead of a combination
of the transparent and opaque spaces to which one is accustomed),
can home, that primary sense of place, be established?