I was always fascinated with art and how others were able to make pictures but my idea of art before and well into my incarceration was limited to picture making for the sake of making pictures that were appealing. I never imagined that art can be used as a bridge between two points on the map of life, or two people.
When I came to prison I was quite inarticulate and made an oath to myself that I wouldn’t ever again allow someone else to tell my story. I would be the one from here on out telling it.
I began reading what I could get my hands on – including an old dictionary with the cover and many pages torn from it that someone gave me. I began trying out the new words I acquired in my conversations with guys here, much to their annoyance for they couldn’t understand why I would use what they would call a Five Dollar word for a Two Cents conversation.
But I knew that what I wanted to do was master the art of communication.
Some years later I began to write poetry and articles but began noticing that I thought in images that couldn’t be conveyed in words. Yet I lacked any measure of visual language. I began scratching around trying to find my voice.
Some of my early influences and the people who encouraged me was my good friend Ingrid and the books on Franz Marc, Kandinsky, Basquiat and art history books that she would send me, as well as the art sections of newspapers clandestinely passed from inmate to inmate as passing newspapers here is illegal.
For a long time, I spent my time dealing with difficult emotions within the space of my art. Most of it was filled with pain, anger and sadness and in no way could I say that the work would serve as balm or inspiration. It was simply my worst in image form.
Then, after some years of this and after reading Alex Grey’s book The Mission of Art, I realized that art can be used to uplift and heal.
Reading Grey made me evolve my idea of art further beyond a rubber room where I’d wild-out, into finding a sacred space within me and then bringing that sacredness, that specialness of life I found within, out into the world.
This is when I began making the Buddhas.
When the state’s attorney at trial painted me as someone unfit to live, this greatly eroded my already non-existent self-worth, and I didn’t want to allow anyone to determine how others viewed me after that.
What that ultimately did for me is show me that despite my grave mistakes in life and all the harm that I’ve created for others, there was something still worthy in me.
I try to make use of discarded or ignored bits in my art because we all have something worthwhile for another, we just have to find it – and it took me coming to death row to find my worth as a human and as a citizen of the world.
I have committed some grave acts in my life and I will never be able to undo them. Yet the very least I can do is to improve myself.
It is my hope that someone else will also take control of their narrative and tell themselves a new tale, a grander story of themselves. For all of our benefit.