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?