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Jims
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« on: August 05, 2006, 08:11:10 PM »

Two articles written by New York Times reporter, Adam Liptak: the first is about a prison inmate in Pelican Bay Correctional Center, California, who paints on postcards using pigments extracted from M&M candies and a paintbrush made from plastic wrap, foil, and his own hair. Someone on the outside took several of these miniature painting and held an exhibition where several sold for $500 apiece. The inmate donated the money to a Pelican Bay fund for children of prisoners.

The NEXT article is about this same artist/inmate and how the prison disciplined him further (he was already in the SHU) for running a business - which is what they felt he was doing by allowing his paintings to be sold even though he donated 100% of the money to charity. Here's the first article:

July 21, 2006
Behind Bars, He Turns M&M’s Into an Art Form
By ADAM LIPTAK

CRESCENT CITY, Calif., July 16 — The morning after the opening of a show of his recent work, the artist was in his studio, a concrete cell in the Pelican Bay State Prison, where he is serving three life terms in solitary confinement for murder and for slashing a prison guard’s throat. He was checking his supplies, taking inventory.

His paintbrush, made of plastic wrap, foil and strands of his own hair, lay on the lower bunk. So did his paints, leached from M&M’s and sitting in little white plastic containers that once held packets of grape jelly. Next to them was a stack of the blank postcards that are his canvases.

On Friday night, more than 500 people had jammed into a gallery in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, to assess 25 of Donny Johnson’s small, intense works. There was sangria, as well as big bowls of M&M’s. By evening’s end, six of the postcard paintings had sold, for $500 each.

“They are made with these chocolate pigments,” said Adolfo Caballero, an owner of the gallery. “He has really created a new kind of technique, because he doesn’t have access to conventional materials.”

Most prison art, the kind created in crafts classes and sold in gift shops, tends toward kitsch and caricature. But there are no classes or art supplies where Mr. Johnson is held, and his powerful, largely abstract paintings are something different. They reflect the sensory deprivation and diminished depth perception of someone held in a windowless cell for almost two decades.

They pulse, some artists on the outside say, with memory and longing and madness. Others are less impressed, saying the works are interesting examples of human ingenuity but fall short of real artistic achievement.

Mr. Johnson, 46, has something of the middle-aged biker about him, with long slicked-back hair, unfortunate tattoos, a growing paunch and an unruly beard that puts one in mind of ZZ Top or a garden gnome.

He was in a changeable mood on Saturday, eager to hear about the opening but also aware that it was, in the scheme of his life and future, a small thing. He spoke with easygoing and sometimes lighthearted candor, punctuated with wariness and flashes of despair. He declined to discuss the details of his crimes, though he admitted to a past attraction to drugs and violence.

When the conversation turned to his paintings, though, he held his own in the art-speak department. “I love myth and chaos and space,” he said.

Mr. Johnson was 20 when he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in 1980, drawing a sentence of 15 years to life. According to court papers, he and two friends had stabbed an acquaintance to death after a party in San Jose, in a dispute over the sale of cigarettes laced with PCP.

Nine years later Mr. Johnson was charged with the nearly fatal stabbing of one guard and with assaulting another. That case went to trial, with Mr. Johnson saying he had been startled and, thinking he was under attack by a gang member, had acted in what he thought was self-defense. He was convicted and sentenced to two additional terms of nine years to life. His chances of ever being paroled, he said, are small.

The prison here is an expanse of grim concrete bunkers, spread out over 275 acres not far from the California coast and the Oregon border. It is as sterile and monochrome as Mr. Johnson’s paintings are bursting out with color.

About 3,300 of the state’s most dangerous prisoners are held at Pelican Bay, which is among the toughest prisons in the nation. But even here there are varying levels of security. The problem prisoners, including Mr. Johnson, are held in the Security Housing Unit, which everyone calls the SHU (pronounced like “shoe”).

He lives in an 8-by-12-foot concrete cell. His meals are pushed through a slot in the door. Except for the odd visitor, with whom he talks through thick plexiglass, he interacts with no one. He has not touched another person in 17 years.

Asked about his circumstances growing up, Mr. Johnson assessed his current state instead. “I am of the dungeon class,” he said.
In “Donny: Life of a Lifer,” a short book he wrote in 2001, Mr. Johnson said the lack of sensory stimulation and human contact in the SHU was a form of torture. “I’d cut off my right arm,” he wrote, “to be able to hold my mother.”

His art, he said on Saturday, is a solace, an obsession and a burden.

He orders his supplies from the prison commissary once a month. The M&M’s are 60 cents a pack, and he gets 10 packs at a time. He puts from one to five of the candies in each of the jelly containers, drizzles a little water in and later fishes out the chocolate cores, leaving liquid of various colors, which get stronger if they sit for a couple of days.

He has tried other candy, but there are perils. “It’s the same process with Skittles,” he said, “but I end up eating them all.”

Sometimes he experiments with other materials. “Grape Kool-Aid in red M&M color makes a kind of purple,” he wrote in a letter to a reporter not long ago. “Coffee mixed with yellow makes a light brown. Tropical punch Kool-Aid granules can be made into a syrup and used as a paint wash of sorts. But it’s a bear to work with and it’s super-sticky and it never dries.”

And there are frustrations. “If lint gets in a piece, I feel like screaming,” he wrote.

While prison officials will not allow Mr. Johnson to have conventional art supplies or much of anything else in the SHU, they have not interfered with his work or stopped him from mailing his paintings to his family and friends. The prison will not let him keep the proceeds from his sales, Mr. Johnson said, and he intends to donate the money to the Pelican Bay Prison Project, a nonprofit group that will use it to help the children of prisoners.

On the outside, the paintings have drawn admiration and even awe.

“It has the vibration of color you find in van Gogh’s work,” said Mr. Caballero, the Mexican gallery owner. “Sometimes it looks like Motherwell. Sometimes it looks like de Kooning. And there is also something of Munch.”

Stephen A. Kurtz, a semiretired psychoanalyst who has worked with prisoners and helped arrange the show in Mexico, said he generally had no use for their art.

“The prison art I’ve seen is very stereotypical: women with breasts out to the next block and beefy guys with them,” Mr. Kurtz said.
Mr. Johnson’s work, he said, is a different matter. “It reminds me,” he said, “of Pollock in the early-to-mid-1940’s, when he was in Jungian analysis.”

Mr. Johnson’s circumstances and materials may influence viewers’ perceptions, and not everyone is convinced that he is the real thing.

“I’m not really responding to it aesthetically,” said Brooke Anderson, director and curator of the Contemporary Center at the American Folk Art Museum, “but I’m totally responding from its place of origin. It kind of reminds me of spin art. It feels very psychedelic, like the 1970’s hippie culture.”

Mr. Johnson is working in a rich tradition of art produced in prisons and asylums, Ms. Anderson continued.

“Time and the availability of time,” she said, “has an awful lot to do with an explosion of expression

(The next post will contain the second article)
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Jims
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« Reply #1 on: August 05, 2006, 08:12:52 PM »

August 4, 2006
Prison Disciplines Inmate Who Paints With M&M’s
By ADAM LIPTAK

A prison artist in California who uses the dye from M&M’s for paint has been disciplined for what a prison official yesterday called “unauthorized business dealings” in the sale of his paintings. The prison has also barred the prisoner, Donny Johnson, from sending his paintings through the mail.

Mr. Johnson’s work has been on display for the last several weeks at a gallery in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Twenty of his paintings have been sold, for $500 each.

Mr. Johnson had donated the paintings to the Pelican Bay Prison Project, a charity which says it will honor Mr. Johnson’s wish that it use the proceeds from the show to help the children of prisoners.

According to a “serious rules violation report” issued by the prison last month, Mr. Johnson ran afoul of a corrections department regulation that prohibits engaging in a business or profession without the warden’s permission. The regulation defines a business as “any revenue-generating or profit-making activity.”

Francisco Jacquez, the chief deputy warden at Pelican Bay State Prison, in Crescent City, Calif., said the violation could extend Mr. Johnson’s sentence or restrict his privileges. “There are some consequences, and that’s what we use to maintain discipline in prison,” Mr. Jacquez said, declining to be more specific.

Stephen A. Kurtz, a founder and director of the charity, said the discipline was unwarranted. “He wasn’t doing business,” Mr. Kurtz said of Mr. Johnson. “He was simply making a donation. He didn’t make a penny off this.”

The discipline was prompted by a front-page article about Mr. Johnson in The New York Times last month, according to the violation report. Pamela B. Hooley, a deputy attorney general, sent a copy of the article to prison officials on the day it appeared, the report said.

Mr. Johnson, who is 46, is serving three life sentences. He pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in 1980 for a drug-related killing, drawing a sentence of 15 years to life. In 1989, he was convicted of slashing the throat of one guard and assaulting another. Those crimes resulted in two additional sentences of nine years to life.

He has been in solitary confinement in a small concrete cell for almost two decades. He paints with a brush he created with plastic wrap, foil and his own hair. He makes paint by leaching the colors from M&M’s in little plastic containers that once held packets of grape jelly. His canvases are postcards.

It is not clear whether the prison will stop Mr. Johnson from creating paintings. In a recent postcard to his mother, Mr. Johnson wrote that prison officials have stopped him from mailing his art to his family, friends and supporters.

A lawyer for Mr. Johnson, Charles Carbone, said he was considering bringing a legal challenge.

The United States and California Supreme Courts have struck down laws that would have prohibited people convicted of crimes from profiting from them. But courts have been reluctant to interfere with prison administration, even where First Amendment issues are involved. In June, for instance, the United States Supreme Court upheld a Pennsylvania prison policy that denied access to newspapers and magazines to some inmates.

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« Reply #2 on: October 22, 2006, 05:04:49 PM »

It really speaks to the human spirit,  and their desire to create and reach out to the outside world,  that they would keep experimenting until they found a way to add color to their paintings.  BSS's son is at Pelican Bay and I know she set up a business to sell her son's and his friends's art.  I have a card from him from several years ago.
Fortunesociety.org  has had art shown that have been made with color lifted off of magazines,  foods, and even coffee grounds. They have an online art show and sale once a year. 
Prisonsfoundation.org  has some articles on prison art,  a newsletter about inmate art,  and they also have an art gallery and sale of the art. 
I thought I kept the art made with coffee grounds on my computer,  but I did not.  Here are two others sold at fortune society.  The orang is mine, and I have a charcoal of Sylvia Plath done by Hobson.  Here is Hobson's painting of a Tutsi woman dying of AIDS. 



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« Reply #3 on: December 14, 2006, 12:53:17 PM »

The fortune society art show in NYC ends today.  The Anthony Throop work in coffee of an inmate holding up a child high,  has gotten  $570!  Another called "big Joe" got $600.   take a look at them while they can still be seen online!  I attached the one by Throop and also one by the Tamms inmate,  Padilla,  done with colors from M & M's and other candies. 

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« Reply #4 on: December 14, 2006, 01:00:14 PM »

Here is one done by Don Johnson.  He is the one featured in the article Jims posted. I think it looks sexual!
qoute: 
Donald Johnson has been in solitary confinement in a small concrete cell for almost two decades. He paints with a brush he created wtih plastic wrap, foil and his own hair. He makes paint by extracting the colors from M&M's in little plastic containers that once held packets of grape jelly. His canvases are postcards.


Adolfo Caballero, who curated Mr. Johnson's exhibit in San Miguel de Allende, said of him: "he's not a prison artist; he's an artist in prison." Just as Louise Bourgeois, though a feminist in many respects, refuses to be labeled a "woman artist," Donny Johnson refuses to be called a "prisoner artist." Such categories as "prison artist," "woman artist," or "outsider artist" take people who are, to varying degrees, marginalized with respect to mainstream society and further marginalize them and their creative work through the application of such labels. That this sort of labeling conceals a prejudice that is revealed by the fact that artists not in prison are not labeled "free artists," artists who are men are not labeled "male artists" and so forth. An artist is an artist. He or she alone - not a curator, a critic, or an historian - should decide the category, if any, to which their work belongs.

 



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« Reply #5 on: February 22, 2007, 08:36:26 PM »

Why does the system always try to bring inmates down? If he was giving the profits to charity, then what did he do wrong? His story made the paper. He has a talent and it should be okay for to give away his work. Its strange how you can write a book in prison and get it published, but can't give away art. I pray that they allow him to continue doing what he is doing and at the same time he's helping others. :~)

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« Reply #6 on: March 03, 2007, 12:59:49 PM »

Here's a website that sells 'flash' - artwork for tattoos.  My son the tat artist says many of these drawings were drawn by prisoner artists.  There's some really good artwork included here.  It's too bad some states don't allow inmates to sell their artwork and profit in some way to provide for themselves and their families.

www.flash2xs.com
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« Reply #7 on: March 03, 2007, 02:39:49 PM »

They could pull it off,  with a friend on the outside,  sending them the art to sell and then sending the money back to them. 
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Jims
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« Reply #8 on: March 03, 2007, 02:51:48 PM »

Then, too, many inmates' victims or family members of victims have filed civil lawsuits against inmates, so that any money they might earn would go towards the payment of the settlement. That's a shame, because earned money could rightly go towards helping their own families, but the inmates are discouraged from working or otherwise earning any money knowing it will all go to a big fat victims' fund instead. The Bishop family won a $40-million settlement against David Biro, according to one newspaper article. That's ridiculous. In cases where the inmate left behind a wife and children, often they are forced to go on state welfare. Meanwhile, an inmate who could be contributing to his family's welfare, instead chooses not to work knowing his family won't benefit.
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« Reply #9 on: March 03, 2007, 03:16:16 PM »

M. has sent me artwork to sell and get money for myself.  I couldn't part with them tho'   ;)
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« Reply #10 on: March 03, 2007, 03:34:42 PM »

 nono

I find it astonishing that such an obvious act of both charity and penitance was to be condemned rather than applauded by the prison system responsible for this mans 'rehabilitation'. It speaks of the vise-like grip the prison system maintains over communication between inmates and the outside world. The actions taken by the prison system reiterate the question of the purposes of incarceration? Is a person placed in prison in order to remove their human rights, dignity and benefits of being a member of society -or- solely for the purposes of rehabilitation and possible prevention of further crimes against society? Where does the 'punishment' end? What is the prison system's definitive purpose? The artist's actions reflect a genuine remorse for his crimes through his giving of any proceeds to the foundation mentioned in the article. The artists' desire to produce works of art and subsequently share them with the outside world smacks of humanity and its need for interaction with others through any possible means of communication. His form of artistic expression is a direct reflection of his solitary living conditions and the prolonged denial of his ability to socialize with others... Yet through all his adversity - this man had sought and discovered a way to be humanely benefiicial to society!?!  It's really a shame to see that such clear signs of 'rehabilitation' by the prisoner were not instead high-lighted by those responsible for his intended rehabilitation rather than to be condemned and censored as if they were some form of further crime?   ...   STOP AND THINK?
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Jims
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« Reply #11 on: March 03, 2007, 03:42:30 PM »

Excellent post.
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« Reply #12 on: March 03, 2007, 03:45:18 PM »

tat2u -  so true!  great post1
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« Reply #13 on: March 04, 2007, 07:09:09 AM »

Well expressed. tat2U.Obviously you have inherited your writing and expression talent from someone close on here, trying to recall her name *(%$#   Let me see now, Oh yes. Dazzler! *(%$#

On a serious note, my J used to work all the time at his art work and he provided more than enough to pay for all the finanacial stuff needed for all his children, then as Jims said, law suits were filed and inmates were stopped.


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« Reply #14 on: March 04, 2007, 08:47:26 PM »

 nono

At what point do you we begin the rehabilitation of a prisoner? When does the punishment end and the learning of new ways begin? There are so few work programs in the prisons. There appears to be little effort to retrain inmates to be productive members of society. How does one who has been taught a life of crime or drug abuse reform when no classes are given in the proper ways to reform? How does one who has been given a hot cot and three meals for free learn the ability to rejoin society? This story struck me very deeply. Are these prisoners so dangerous that they are not even to be trusted with a set of crayons for fear that they may make a sharpened shank out of one?

To the victim's families... I would ask you this?...

If you have a firm belief in justice - an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth... Should you yourselves not have the ability to see past this persons crimes, disconnect yourselves from the closeness and horror of their crime, and have the mercy to allow these people to change? Would you not want that of yourself?

In his actions I see a born again child who had drawn a beautiful picture with his crayons, given it to a parent so it may be posted on the refrigerator for all to see - only to have it crunched up before him and thrown into the garbage.

If you place these people into a cage, reduce them to the level of being no more than a wild animal which is never to be trusted, they will forever remain that way. In the prisoners actions I see only dignity and an understanding of his wrongs and the expectations of proper society understood. There must be an acceptance of a disconnection between the crimes committed by and the present actions of the prisoner artist. Whether or not there is a trust fund set up for the victims families, whether or not there is a predesignated avenue for revenues received from the sales of a prisoner's art, at some level the prisoner must be allowed the opportunity to humanly express themselves and display signs of an effort to reform. I see no harm and only good in allowing a prisoner to make a right out of their wrongs in this way. Allowing them to draw and to paint, to sculpt and create, teaches an appreciation for the creation of life itself. Allow them to share their creations... and by all means allow society to benefit by the charitable act of contribution by them. Tsk Tsk!
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wronniefaye99
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« Reply #15 on: February 03, 2008, 10:07:56 PM »

 iluvu3 browneyes wronniefaye99
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« Reply #16 on: February 03, 2008, 10:20:55 PM »

When I visited Hill last year, prison art was on disply with a price tag....did that stop for 2008?
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