OHIO VALLEY —Three local artists stole the show during the San Quentin Prison Project exhibition at the Huntington Museum of Art.
The Huntington Museum of Art (HMOA) invited 11 regional artists to take part in the San Quentin Project presented by Jack and Angie Bourdelais. These 11 regional artists were to use the imagery and information in San Quentin record books as a starting place for the creation of artworks for the show.
The San Quentin Prison in California held many famous inmates such as Charles Manson, Merle Haggard, Eldridge Cleave and Danny Trejo. The prison currently serves a holding facility for the largest group of death-row inmates in the country. it is also the place where Johnny Cash played his first prison concert in 1958.
Three of these 11 artists reside in the Point Pleasant, W.Va. and Gallia County, Ohio regions.
Benjy Davies resides in Gallipolis, Ohio and is a professor of art and chair of the School of Arts and Letters at the University of Rio Grande. Gerry Enrico born in the Philippines, now residing in Point Pleasant, offers art classes in the tri-state area. Jamie Sloane born in Huntington, W.Va., now resides in Point Pleasant, where he works as an artist in his historic apartment.
The artists drew inspiration for their artwork by viewing two record books of the San Quentin Prison. These records span the years of 1918 into 1930. The record books included photographs, personal information about the inmate, and the reasoning for their incarceration.
Racial epithets are used to describe many of the prisoners in these record books as well as a vast array of reasons for incarceration ranging from theft, to assault, and murder, but also for offenses that would not be considered crimes today, such as adultery and political or labor union activist activity.
Various media was displayed for this exhibit, which runs through May 28 at the Huntington Museum of Art. Photography, paintings, drawings, ceramics, and multi-media pieces were included. All the artist’s work varied in style from one another and sometimes in their messages, but every piece was cohesive in that the artists were depicting some aspect of the lives of prisoners or the lives of individuals that were affect by those incarcerated by the San Quentin prison.
The opening reception to the San Quentin Prison Project brought out a large number of individuals. Walking through the gallery there were people wall to wall discussing art and attempting to catch a glimpse, among the crowd, of the artwork that was displayed.
Davies was asked to join this exhibit about a year ago when he had previously shown work in the HMOA during a juried show.
Davies chose the subjects of his drawings through a variety of subject matters and objects of the San Quentin Prison. Some were portraits of the inmates and some were artifacts found in the prison. Davies included modern aspects of the prison as well as ideas taken from the old record books. Much of Davies’ work included text with his drawings.
“I was really interested in the stories of the prisoners I portrayed and did a great deal of research in regards to the prisoners I choose to depict,” Davies said. “I included quite a lot of texts with my drawings too, for instance, some have why they were in prison, how old they were, whether they were executed or not, how long they were on death row.”
Davies gave permission to the museum curators to put his work up how they saw fit. Typically he puts his work in chronological order.
The San Quentin Drawings are in extension of Davies’ “Daily Drawings” project. Working every evening over a period of months, he created dozens of individual drawings. With these small drawings Davies hopes to capture fragments of the “complexity and horror” of the institution.
Enrico was recommended by Jack Bourdelais to exhibit work in the San Quentin project. Enrico has two pieces displayed.
Enrico explained his process in picking inmates to portray in his portraits for this exhibit:
“I looked up their ethnicity background and their crimes and disassembled them,” Enrico said. “We judge the inmates by their inmate identification number, we only see a number. We don’t know what their background is. They have families, they have children. Many were immigrants that came to America to find a good job and a better life.”
Each inmate in his drawings is only identified by their prison identification and the hat that he or she was wearing at the time.
Enrico said: “I imagine people who were afraid but deep inside were full of hope of being rehabilitated. I imagined humans just like you and me.”
Sloane was asked to join the San Quentin Project by the HMOA when they viewed other work of Sloane’s from his “Visiteurs” project.
Sloane examined the two books of mugshots from inmates at San Quentin prison. Sloane took 77 photographs of the mugshots back to his studio in Point Pleasant. There, he studied each photograph. Sloane was to only choose three mugshots to recreate. He stated that he wanted to “reflect upon the photographs objectively.” He was influenced by which photographs to choose for his artwork by how the faces in the mugshots figuratively “spoke to him.” Sloane further explained he wanted to, “subconsciously” choose a photo and to choose a photo that had a face that he deemed “intriguing.”
While trying to figure out which photographs to use for his work, he did not look at the inmate’s record. He wanted to be “nondiscriminatory” in his selection.
To find out more information about the San Quentin Project presented by Jack and Angie Bourdelais visit the HMOA website- hmoa.org