JAC is proud and honored to partner with incredible artists from across the country. Without their artwork, this exhibition would not be possible. All participating artists - from incarcerated folks to teaching and independent artists - are below with and a snapshot of their stories.
“Art is a way for me to learn & express myself. It's my comfort zone, an outlet for stress or frustration. I get joy & happiness from painting. I can create my own world, paint what I see or express what I feel. It plays a part in my recovery."
Valentino Amaya uses acrylic paint to create portraits of cultural icons. In his recent work he has taken on a hyper-saturated palette. "To me color is intuition," he shares, "whatever I'm feeling in the moment."
Michelle Repiso Photography
Born in Puerto Rico and raised in Northern Virginia, Michelle Repiso graduated from The Corcoran School of the Arts and Design in Washington, D.C., where she received a BFA in Photography (2000). Michelle is currently an adjunct faculty member with the International Center of Photography (ICP), Teen Academy, a certified M/WBE business based in New York City and works as a commercial, documentary, and fine art photographer in both analog and digital formats.
In October 2016, she started facilitating art classes at Rikers Island and in 2017 she developed Create & Connect, which is designed to keep families unified through a creative process of dialogue and hands-on art projects for incarcerated men, women, and youth. Participants create original projects to send to their child, family, or friends as a way to unify and maintain communication through long distances. Emphasis is on the creative process and self-expression regardless of artistic skill level.
Submitting work from this project:
"I create whatever my mind and talent will allow. Honestly I believe that adversity has been my greatest inspiration and helped me become an artist."
Harry Elllis is a self-taught oil painter originally from the D.C. area. He, along with fellow creatives, formulated a youth mentoring program and curriculum called P.U.S.H., committed to the uplifting of our youth, by helping them to identify who they are in this world.
Drayton Graphic Art and Illustrations
My artwork was derived by folk art along with abstract and a concern to social, political and
cultural viewpoints. My begining started out as a young child learning to draw by her father
a local neighborhood artist in Harlem, New York. I had attended the Art Institute of Washington,
DC, and later created Drayton Graphic Arts & Illustration, Inc.
I love to paint in acrylic and occasionally use different types of mix mediums around the house.
My grandfather, a jazz musician with Cab Callaway during the Harlem Renaissance, the cubist artist
Jacob Lawrence additionally the abstract texture of Norman Lewis combine with the 21st
century American French artist Nicholle Kobi.
David Potwin describes his work as “Conceptual Realism, and the act of painting as “a synthesis that considers the myriad aspects of human awareness expressed in visual form. It melds together philosophy, physics, sociology, emotion, mysticism, and eroticism with craftsmanship.”
Potwin first put brush to canvas at eight years of age, going on to attend the University of Houston Fine Arts program from 1969-1974. There he studied under and alongside a great group of artists in what was then called the annex. He continued to painting and exhibiting, when at the age of 42 he became incarcerated in the Federal Bureau of Prison. Potwin became passionate about wanting to “light a spark in the minds of disenfranchised individuals” through work as a teaching artist. Over the course of the next 20 years, he would establish new arts programs as well as offer lessons in oil painting, drawing and watercolor to his fellow inmates. He has illustrated children’s books, such as “Hobo Pete and the Ghost Train” available on Amazon. In 2018, David was released after serving 25 years.
When David and JAC discovered each other, it was a natural fit. David remains active in the prison reform movement. He continues to show at numerous galleries, although Covid-19 has hit galleries hard. He credits JAC as “a leading proponent for education and reintegration through art, and rethinking the dysfunctional ‘corrections’ system.”
My sculptures have been displayed in numerous museums in Canada (where I am from) and the USA. I have worked in various mediums including paper, wood , stone and acrylic. I created replicates of aboriginal wood pieces for The Centennial Museum in Vancouver and have taught sculpture in both Canada and the USA. I like simplicity and a relationship in my work to the natural world. “Directions” is an example of both. It is structurally simple but it is moved by the natural world and sky and earth can be seen through it. I like working in acrylic because , when polished, it is transparent and reflective. “Directions” is both a work of art and a functioning wind vane. It can withstand winds of over 80 mph.
The entity that is Peaceworks was born in 2006, in prison.
Prows shares, “It began as a hobby and gradually turned into such a huge part of my soul that now I can recognize art for not only beauty, but [for] expression of self, a resistance, and freedom.”
Since its inception, Peaceworks has released a series of ink illustrations.
Each piece distinct in its use of brightly-colored accent shapes and a stylized border.
MARY ANNA POMONIS
Mary Anna Pomonis is a Los Angeles based artist. In 2020, Pomonis will have two solo shows at LADIES’ ROOM LOS ANGELES and the Lancaster Museum of Art and History. Pomonis has shown at galleries and institutions including the Western Carolina University Museum of Fine Arts, Cullowhee; the Torrance Art Museum; the Mildred Lane Kemper Museum, St Louis; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; PØST, Los Angeles; Annie Wharton, Los Angeles; Diana Lowenstein Fine Arts, Miami; Cirrus Gallery, Los Angeles; Space B Gallery, New York; and I-space Gallery, Chicago. Her artwork and projects have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Huffington Post, Artillery Magazine, Art Forum, Frieze, Hyperallergic, National Public Radio, Whitehot Magazine, Yale University Radio and Artweek. Additionally, her curatorial projects and essays have been featured at commercial and institutional galleries, such as the Vincent Price Art Museum, Charlie James Gallery, The Whittier College Greenleaf Gallery, PØST, Peter Miller Gallery, and Circus Gallery.
In 2015, Pomonis and Professor Annie Buckley of San Diego State University launched the website www.radicalactions.com, focused on creative projects by teaching and social practice artists. Pomonis is also the founder of the Association of Hysteric Curators , a collective focused on advancing the lives of feminist artists. In addition to her solo career, she is currently collaborating with photographer Allison Stewart on the project Resurrecting Matilda . She is also employed as an Assistant Professor of Art Education at California State University Fullerton.
"I have been connected with JAC for about one year, after a recommendation from another incarcerated artist. JAC has done an amazing job of handling my paintings and putting them into situations where my art is being seen. I started painting about nine years ago and plan to continue for the rest of my life. Painting has become an inspiration and a motivator."
Jeremiah Murphy is a New Hampshire native, with a special eye for background and texture. While studying photography in college, Murphy was introduced to painting and he immediately connected with its ability to help one heal and process their past.
Murphy’s time as a photographer colors the way he sees and executes his projects. Sometimes he finds himself so captivated with the experimentation and development of a painting's background, he entirely neglects the foreground, to interesting effect. “My favorite part of the process is creating backgrounds,” he says. “I strive to create interest and depth using various items and my latest whim. I’ve even applied toilet paper (un-used!) to several canvases over the years.”
When asked about what inspires him, he names his son stating, “He never really saw me excel at anything before I was locked up. I hope that my passion for creating art will make him proud for his dad.”
I'm a queer latinx artist with a focus on colorful creations. I love to try all sorts of things! Self taught, for more than a decade!
Brian Hindson's hope as an artist is to be, "a unique voice."
“I believe art can do many things: make a person look at an object differently, be decorative, open up dialog about a subject, or just thinking about its representation. In prison, art gives many a means to escape into their creativity and expression of ideas. I don't believe there is ‘prison art', just ART, that happens to be created in prison.”
Influenced by Impressionism and Pop Art, many of Hindson's paintings act as as documentation and studies of the world around him.
His work can currently be found on display at the PS1 exhibition Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration at the Museum of Modern Art.
Karim Shuquem is a teaching artist who, in his formative years, organized activist protests, made zines, and managed his friend’s punk bands, booking concerts at local venues and tours across California and the southwest. Once in his early twenties, he got on stage himself as a performer and musician in various rock bands and a traveling circus, while continuing to distribute small zines filled with sketchbook drawings and articles. Later on in his twenties, he finished college and earned a BFA in Fine Art and a BA in Graphic Design, while functioning as frontman for punk band The Phantom Limbs in Oakland, CA.
After graduating and completing internships in art education and graphic design, Shuquem moved to Chicago, opening the Reversible Eye gallery and beginning employment at non-profit The Arts of Life, inc., where he helped to focus artistic direction and managed their larger projects. His experience at that organization shaped his future goal of becoming a teaching artist with a continuing focus on social justice issues. Soon after leaving Chicago, Shuquem was the printmaking instructor at a similar arts and disability community in Los Angeles, ECF.
This year, Karim has begun implementing a business model, Graphic Non-Violence, which combines education on the history and production of activist art with graphic design and illustration for local grassroots and non-profit organizations. He also teaches students individually and keeps a studio practice for his personal work.
WILLIAM B. LIVINGSTON III
“My entire life, I’ve been a musician, but I’ve always wanted to be an artist."
Finding a new way to combine his passion for music, art, and the desire to give back to his community, William B. Livingston began designing and screen printing concert posters of the musicians he admires. These hand-printed posters would then be distributed for free by loved ones and volunteers to the patrons waiting in ticket lines at various music venues.
Livingston reflects, “In 2010, I was sentenced to fifty years in prison for the death of a man that I caused by drinking and driving. Since music was not an option for the first three years of my forty-year incarceration, I decided to finally pursue painting. After some experimentation, I managed to find a style inside myself and dove in completely. Just as with my music upbringing, I have been self-taught.”
“I love doing this concert poster project and the charity commissions because it is a way for me to be a part of the world – and to give back to a community and society from which I feel as if I have taken so much. All of this could never replace the person I killed through my negligence, but maybe it’s a way I can do something in his memory.”
With the help of his loved ones, Livingston has been able to participate in galleries, festivals, exhibitions, and silent auctions which focus on uplifting and supporting communities. Seeking to take on projects which benefit charitable causes, Livingston has donated work for organizations such as the Special Olympics, Employment for the Disabled, the Messages Project, and the Outsiders House Renovation. His work is currently on display at the PS1 exhibition Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration at the Museum of Modern Art.
Shani Shih is a DC-based painter & illustrator working at the intersections of studio and public art, community art, and organizing. In juxtaposing expressive figures and themes of industrialism and nature, she captures the complexity and richness of our inner worlds - those we build through journeys of trauma, growth, reckoning, healing, and surrender. With form and movement she explores visceral emotional and bodily experience, and the violent systems that so powerfully shape our struggles.
In 2016, Shani co-founded the 411 Collective, a hip-hop/graffiti collective that supports community empowerment and movement work through murals and direct art action. In 2018 she founded Chinatown Art Studio, a summer art program servicing Asian Pacific American youth. She has worked as a tenant organizer since 2017, supporting anti-displacement efforts in Chinatown and across DC.
"As a young artist, I find inspiration in everything around me. Which is great when your in a place that forces you to live in a bland environment. And thanks to the justice Arts Coalition, I can share my visual voice with the world as well, to show that even bright colors can push away the gray."
Jon Cashion began painting in 2016. With no prior formal art training, he acquired his artistic knowledge through the books available to him, experimentation, and his peers. Through his vibrant, bold abstract paintings, he says, “I have found a passion, a deep feeling of having to create something, that I can’t seem to get rid of.”
Cashion explores art-making creatively using the materials around him: cut sheets, cardboard, printer paper, coffee, and pens to make his art. In the past he has used forks, toothbrushes, and even his own beard to make brushes. “To me this shows that no matter how bad things get, I can still create art.”
Sandra Miller is a mixed media artist currently focused on handmade paper sculpture that incorporates recycled materials, with an important feature being cast shadow. Sandra has been a lifetime artist, but only since "retiring" has she made making a priority, and had her first gallery show at age 70. She often focuses a work on political, thought provoking, and/or inspirational messaging. A favorite influence is Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, though she draws on other poets, authors, and current news.
"I'm inspired to be a person of strong character and I’ve always been partial to drawing bold things that represent something for me and when they are drawings that have come from who I am as a person I’m encouraged a little more to know they’re unique and that means a lot to me."
(Originally in spanish, translated by JAC volunteers)
The subject of Gustavo Tafolla's art is often wildlife, depicting creatures traditionally symbolic of strength and knowledge.
Cherie Hacker is best known for her abstract paintings full of lively organic and geometric shapes composed in a colorful symphony. Her expressive practice of blended, layered, and drawn mark making, reflects the shapes, lines and movement seen in nature. Her paintings have been featured throughout the US, Canada and Ireland.
Cherie’s inspirations include exploring nature, music, and adventures with her family. With over 40 years experience, her education includes an MFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art, BA in Studio Art from UC Davis, and a Graduate Internship at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Her studio is in downtown Sacramento at E Street Gallery and Studios where she collaborates, curates, and exhibits in the annual open studio tour.
LESLEY RAE BURDICK
Lesley Rae Burdick currently works as a teaching artist working in pastels. She describes her style as ranging from “realism to non-objectivism” with recurrent hints of surrealism. Despite citing that art had always been around in her life while growing up in Utah, it would not be until she was imprisoned that she recognized her own talent and desire to produce work.
“Being incarcerated broke me apart, and that exposed the purest truths to an introspective journey," Says Burdick. "In discovering how to express that through a creative medium, I was able to finally be myself. Being a transgender female in a men's prison was not easy, but I still strived to be my true self, regardless. Being with an amazing art community of like souls, each profound with our own mediums and styles. In chaos, we found serenity. Although we are all separated, some departed, I will always have the memories to keep me moving forward and hopefully share that with others, especially those who find themselves in chaos and despair.”
Burdick describes art as “the ability to express the emotions that words simply cannot; art takes the mind and spirit on a mystical journey with the freedom of a dream.”
Theodore Sefcik is known for his enigmatic animations, which combine the aesthetics of primitive consumer computer graphics with early abstract color video art. The work is often presented on atypical exposed LCDs equipped with microcomputer content control. Themes range from scenes of mysterious microbial flexors to inscrutable assembly lines to semi-graceful humanoid and animal dancers. Sefcik’s work has been exhibited private and public installations in solo and group shows in New York, Miami and Sweden.
Julie has been a Teaching Artist at Pelican Bay State Prison, through the Arts-in-Corrections Program of California, since 2014. She teaches visual arts workshops year-round at various facilities, through the William James Association's Prison Arts Project, in partnership with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) and the California Arts Council (CAC). Julie was a former college art teacher, and has taught art classes at Humboldt County Correctional Facility (HCCF) voluntarily.
To learn more about Julie's art, please visit her website:
"My inspiration is seeing people staring at my work with a mystical smile on their faces. I found out about JAC from one of my old cellies named Dana. I try not to put words on my work because I hope my work will be sold word wide to inspire everyone that even the simplest shapes put a smile on one's imagination."
Using colored pencils, careful blending, and drop shadows, Lockhart creates overlapping and abstracted patterns. His work often features bold and interlocking designs which, he explains, represent how, regardless of "how different we each try to be, we're still all connected."
Danny Ashton uses colored pencils to create lively and dynamic social scenes. His renderings often depict historical time frames. "I love history,” says Ashton. “I've done many artworks dealing with historical subjects. When I do a picture like that, I like to immerse myself and the viewer in that time period. In different decades in the 20th century, what better way to do that than by including a car? I could do a scene set in a certain year, but including a car from that year makes that time period easily recognizable."
In school, Ashton studied visual arts and art history, earning teacher’s certification in Art. In his work, he leans “towards artwork which has more realistic depictions of life rather than artwork which has abstract or expressionist works. That has a lot to do with my personality. If I have something to say, I like to be direct and obvious, rather than (like in abstract works) subtle, leaving people open to differing interpretations of what I’m trying to say.”
I work in batik (resist) technique on silk. I have been an exhibiting artist for many years. I founded the Souls Shot Portrait Project in 2016. The project pairs artists with families or friends of victims of gun violence. The artists create portraits based on the lives of these loved ones. I have also been a teacher, graphic designer, art director, and illustrator.
"When I am drawing, I think of only what I am drawing. I turn on a local classical music radio station and I'm no longer in prison -- I am in my studio."
"Inmates are typically 'out-of-site/out-of-mind' for most of society. We have little value, no voice, no rights. So art is a creative process by which I say I am here. I am a human being. I exist."
An accomplished artist, specializing in urban landscapes utilizing colored pencil, Mr. Farlow’s works have been on display at Art With Conviction in Tucson, Arizona, the Prisons Foundation and Safer Streets Art Foundation in Washington D.C., and at the Durland Alternatives Library at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.
JODY E. BORHANI D'AMICO
Jody Borhani-D’Amico (b. 1989) is a photographer and painter. Through intricate portraits and sparse landscapes, she explores adventure, fear and the presence of unseen burdens. Nature and decomposition drive her storytelling and her techniques, particularly the decoupaging of preserved leaves, flowers and detritus beneath layers of oil paint.
Jody constructs images from her street photography and her dreams. She draws inspiration from childhood memories of her terminally ill sibling as well as her mom’s family stories, from her years of teaching filmmaking and from her forays into the unloved spaces of deindustrialized America. The visual artists she most admires are Thornton Dial, Maurice Denis and Stacy Kranitz. Her current paintings focus on the variety of interactions between humans and deer in New York’s Hudson Valley: a doe decapitated, a deer hit by a car, and a sunset bike ride with a pet fawn.
"I believe [my art] will hold significant meaning to LGBTQIA folks all over the world.”
The artist Edee Allynnah is of Native American ancestry who draws inspiration from her personal life and social issues. Through the use of colored pencils, Allynnah’s work touches on the day-to-day experiences of being a Transfemale. Many of her pieces acknowledge the unique pressures put upon Transwomen to suppress their true thoughts and emotions.
William James Association
Stacy Hay creates art in several mediums focusing on painting, printmaking, and 3-D relief works. Her works express life’s dualism, some of it is cheerful and colorful, in contrast, there can be a heavier tone. These images emphasize emotions that encompass the tension of being psychologically or physically bound in constant turmoil.
Stacy worked at Sierra Conservation Center, State Prison, for 26 years, she was the Artist/Facilitator directing the arts program at the prison for 17 years. This job immersed her in all aspects of art, working with contract artists/instructors to offer visual, literary and performing arts workshops to incarcerated students. Stacy taught drawing, painting, printmaking, papermaking, bookbinding and mosaics. Due to budget problems the art program was cut.
Tomás considers this work autobiographical and representative of the “terrible beauty found in both past actions and lessons learned,”
He uses paints, collage, pastel, and found materials to re-examine and re-contextualize the imagery found in the media around him, often magazines. “It seems that I shaped my life around a distorted reality that I perceived in media at a young age. Today, I use this same media to explore my previous misunderstandings by appropriating it for artistic purposes.” Utilizing the fashion magazines available to him, he explains, “I recompose these images, adding a new context to them that expresses my own sense of isolation, frustration, and societal impotence as well as my growing understanding of previous wrongs. I do this while also questioning the magazine’s original context of economics, art, and sexuality.” .
While making art, Tomás says, “I am no longer myself, no longer in prison, but an active participant in a conversation that has been going on for the length of human history. A conversation that can trace its roots back to the first markings on cave walls. I am filled with a desire to express my experience of life in a way that will transcend my own life. This is what art is about for me.”
Prisoner Express and the Center for Transformative Action at Cornell University
I am a visual artist working in sculpture, painting and printmaking. I am also the volunteer art director for Prisoner Express In this capacity, I have developed art programs for artists in prisons for the past 10 years. My most recent sculptures are created from the approximately 20,000 letters received annually by PE. It is my hope that the sculpture conveys the respect for the emotions - hope, loneliness, desire, regret, and more - I read in the letters from prisoners.
Gary Harrell is an artist currently living in the Bay Area, after his release from San Quentin State Prison. While incarcerated he became a prolific artist and printmaker, best known for his use of stippling, linocuts, and selective coloring to create vivid portraiture. Harrell’s work has been featured in numerous museums and galleries, most recently including the PS1 exhibition Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration at the Museum of Modern Art, and Meet Us Quickly: Painting for Justice from Prison in the Museum of African Diaspora’s digital exhibition.
"There are times when I’ve actually wondered if any of my work would receive recognition,” says Harrell, “...now my spirit is renewed and I shall strive to maintain a high level of quality work now and in the future.”
“My art is for the world to see, the wind blowing the trees. The perfection of beauty in one’s eyes, only you can see, frees me. I enjoy the peace I find when I’m doing art. It’s a way of expressing myself that I can’t do verbally.”
Sierra Conservation Center
My work is rooted in the combination of painting and printmaking, exploring internal psychological landscapes and our interactions with the outer world as it changes rapidly around us.
Born and raised in the Blue Ridge Mountains of WV and VA, I have lived in GA, OR, UT, PA, ID in my adult life before moving to the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California where I currently reside. I teach art to students of all ages both in studio and in school settings.
"My name is Corey Hayes, I've painted for much of my life and studied photography in college. The past few years I have been influenced by street style and surrealism. My biggest influence lately has been the work of Salvadore Dali. I'm always looking for new ways to see the world around me and take note of dreams and meditative thoughts."
Although he has practiced painting for far longer than photography, he attributes his stylistic preferences to his time as as a photographer, stating "I think I like to paint surreal and abstract more than realism because of my experience with photography. Seeing things how they actually are got boring for me, so I’ve started painting things how they could be seen."
Please don’t ask me if prison is like orange is the new black.
Prison is like prison:
It’s like waking up from a dream at the wrong time and you can’t get back to your dream, ever.
It’s like watching your future get farther and farther away…
It’s like dying.
It’s like not being allowed to love and be loved.
It’s like not having an identity outside of your prison blues.
It’s like calling a coat a “pillow.”
It’s like forgetting how carpet feels or forgetting what it's like to take a shower without pressing a button every 30 seconds or without shower shoes.
It’s like smelling traveling smoke from grills and fireworks and wanting to stand outside at night.
It’s like never being barefoot in the grass.
It’s like walking everywhere, every winter day and never owning a pair of gloves.
It’s like only going to breakfast because they couldn’t possibly fuck up Rice Krispies and hard-boiled eggs.
It’s like after they serve you a milk if you take it out of the chow hall you’re stealing.
It’s like forgetting how to make choices but knowing how to tuck in your shirt
It’s like constantly checking for your I.D. badge on your chest
It’s like waiting forever in line just to have the window close when it’s your turn.
It’s like forgetting every phone number you’ve memorized and having no-one to call.
It’s like your present character doesn’t matter because you are being defined by a single day. It’s like you are the mistake that you made
It’s like missing the first day of kindergarten and when the first tooth came out.
It’s like being in a black hole that won't swallow you or spit you out.
It’s like nothing you do is ever good enough, like you’re not good enough.
And then when you get out of prison
It’s still like that.
Reentry is like not understanding how to use my phone or my computer
It’s like owing every single person an explanation
It’s like a stack of we regret to inform you letters.
It’s like nothing matters.
It’s like constantly waiting for an expiration date that isn’t coming.
It’s like there is no “Recovery.”
It’s like wishing they would’ve shot me the day I was sentenced.
"I create paintings and drawings that I hope that viewers will be able to connect with on some emotional level. Though my subject matter may be diverse, each of my paintings have been of a person, a scene, an animal or an object which pulled on the strings of my heart in some way. Whether that is by eliciting a nostalgic longing, portraying an often-felt emotion or simply evoking awe in its beauty, they all somewhat represent me."
Joshua Earl is an artist from the Carolinas who considers himself new to the art world. He says of himself that he “is trying. Trying very hard to process a world only recently experienced through an artistic lense.” In his artist statement he writes: “All of the wonder and excitement and fears and joys, all of those things attempt to come through his brush, though he hasn't figured out how to process them yet.”
"Born in 1960 in Orleans, France to American parents. Returned to grow up in the Western United States where I developed an abiding appreciation for the natural world. No formal education beyond high school. Two marriages that resulted in five children and three grandchildren. Prior to having children, I worked in clay and some bronze. Upon the first child's arrival, my studio needed to be safe, so I switched to fiber work. By the time my youngest two were 14 and 9, I had added welding, glass work, and plastic fabrication/sculpture to the mix. From 1991-2006 I worked full time, producing sculptures for exhibits and fairs. I also taught workshops in soft sculpture, surface design, and regularly spoke to university programs.
In July of 2006 life was irrevocably altered by an event of extreme domestic violence that culminated in my use of deadly force to preserve my own life and the lives of my children. Without resources for legal representation, I accepted a plea bargain and began a 15 year sentence for manslaughter. Housed at the Utah State Prison, I focused on maintaining my family connection through drawings, and eventually explored crochet as a means to create sculptural forms. Creating art in prison is fraught with angst. You must have written permission, in contract form, before starting any sort of craft project. Despite adherence to policy, SWAT can sweep through at any time and destroy or discard your artwork. I, personally, experienced this multiple times prior to being transported in 2014 to county jail for housing. While jail is considerably more restrictive than prison in many respects, my experience with staff being supportive of creative endeavors has been largely positive. I have been able to participate in the Hogle Zoo exhibit yearly, as well as a variety of charity events and other exhibits. While widely known for my large somewhat whimsical, wild life sculptures, I have also developed a body of work that reflects the experiences of women dealing with domestic violence and the legal system. These works have been invited to international conferences and exhibits on prison reform in California, Maryland, and Helsinki, Finland.
Having experienced being a battered woman, in a rural setting, with no services available, my hope is to utilize my full size Fish House studio to travel through similar areas and provide a network of information and assistance. Without a larger dialog to address support, and more scrutiny on how laws are enforced, women in rural areas will continue to be left to negotiate their existence daily. The status quo is unacceptable. I will continue to use my network to bring focus on this undeserved population.
"My name is Rayfel Zumar Bell but I go by R. Zumar as my artist name. I'm a self taught artist with no type of formal training. Also there is no art program here so I must learn through trial and error. My inspiration as an artist is to become a master in my own right, so I push towards that goal. I've been dealing with JAC for maybe 2 years now and have nothing but good words for the work they do, the work they've done, and the work they will do."
Zumar is an artist who experiments with mediums who also “strives to break into the art world even from a cell.” Most of the recurring themes in his work reflect the causes he feels personally passionate about including: cancer and autism awareness, wildlife preservation, and finding ways to internationally sponsor and support all children in need.
"Whenever I sit down to paint with my junky paintbrush and pen ink I’m transported out of this cell and am totally consumed with filling that piece of paper full of my emotions, my stress, anxiety, fear, love, etc. I’m able to let it all out with each little stroke and it never fails to surprise me when I’m finished at how cool it comes out. I’m completely in love with painting. Thank you for allowing me to “set free” each portrait I do. It’s stupid but I like to think that just because I’m in here it doesn’t mean they have to be as well"
Chad Merrill is an artist who specializes in portraiture, using a unique technique and process to create his work. As the result of harsh restrictions in his facility, the only medium he is allowed to access is pens.
Each week, he purchases the three pens he’s allowed to buy and gets to to work. He breaks open the pens for the precious liquid ink within. Then, Merrill explains, “I make homemade paint brushes using toothbrushes, and a toothpaste tube cap to blow the ink into.”
Merrill’s introduction to the art world came from a developing fascination with Art History sparked by a teacher who treated him as an equal. As Chad began to spend more time analyzing historical pieces and having conversations about their creation, he was able to veer away from the self-destructive path in which he was headed. Upon realizing that he could find solace in art, he reflected on all of the work he studied and concluded, “I want to be a painter.”
"I remember thinking as a young kid that artists are given talent from whoever hands the gifts out at birth. Growing up my friend could draw superheroes, portraits, anything. I wished I had his ability. Little did I know that art is a practice; I’ve always had the desire but not the confidence.
Then came prison. For the last 6 or so years I’ve been messing with graphite, colored pencils and oil pastels.
JAC has made me feel secure in calling myself an artist, like it’s a reassurance. Confidence comes and goes with me."
“I like to encourage other people in here to pick up the pencil and ignore the myth of the inherently born artist. It definitely takes both practice as well as patience. One day, I’d like to know that I positively influenced another human being, one I’ve never met, through a drawing or a piece of art that I created.”
Sam Loynachan is an artist keenly focused on capturing the likeness of birds through graphite and watercolor. A proud father and former member of the Navy, Loynachan feels that he is still “able to manifest in society” through the creation and sharing of his artwork and poetry, despite facing incarceration for the rest of his life.
“Artwork is my freedom, my escape,” says Loyachan, “which is why my themes are never associated with my surroundings.”
“You can expect me to continue to create art that expresses my identity and to introduce Black themes into American modernism. To portray my experiences and spontaneity in my art as well as inspire and evoke thought. I am emBOLDeN to emerge from the ashes of ignorance, poverty, crime and desecration that once choked my very existence, into a vital force that would contribute to art, change and the uplifting of humanity.”
Gregory Bolden is self taught and a D.C. native. He views himself as an artistic engineer and is best recognized for the use of explosive and expressive color in his portraits.