ART & WRITING BY THE UNFREE
SUBSCRIBE & DONATE
Freeflow – the time in UK prisons when inmates from all wings
and landings move unescorted from their cells en route to ‘purposeful
activities’: employment, training or education.
Freeflow Arts is an exhibition programme at Garden Court Chambers in Central London.
Garden Court Chambers is a large barristers’ chambers in Lincoln’s Inn, Holborn,
whose work places it on the front line in the defence of human rights and civil liberties.
The exhibition programme mostly shows one person exhibitions of art by artists who found their
creative vocation in prison, either still inside or released. If still inside, Ministry of Justice
restrictions require the use of an assumed name for the artist.
Most recently work has been exhibited by artists who are excluded from the mainstream for one
reason or another, working with the Outside In programme at Pallant House Gallery.
This programme includes several artists either still in prison or recently released.
The Freeflow Arts programme works in tandem with Not Shut Up, featuring exhibited art in
concurrent issues and sharing exhibition and magazine issue launch receptions.
We are grateful for the generous support of Garden Court Chambers regarding these events.
Photos by Bartosz Holoszkiewicz, Bogdan Frymorgen, Vaiva Katinaityte and Matthew Meadows.
Click on the names below to see more information and imagery from previous Freeflow Arts exhibitions:
10th March – 30th March 2015
This pop-up exhbition is a collaboration between Freeflow Arts, Not Shut Up Magazine & Watts Gallery Trust. Not Shut Up Magazine featured Watts Gallery’s Artist in Residence prorgamme at HMP Send in the most issue of our magazine, themed Gender and Identity. Read the features here and here.
Watts Gallery Trust and the Michael Varah Memorial Fund have been working collaboratively since 2008 to run an Artist in Residence programme at HMP Send, a closed female training prison in Surrey. Women make their own work in a studio, facilitated by the Watts Gallery Artist in Residence who supports and mentors them. They take part in enterprise projects, submit their work to competitions and every year they exhibit their work in Watts Gallery Trust’s Big Issues exhibition.
The Big Issues project offers artist-led workshops to vulnerable and socially excluded people. Watts Gallery Trust works with up to 8 groups every year including HMP Send, HMP & YOI Bronzefield, HMP/YOI Feltham, Surrey Youth Support Service and three Guildford based community groups. A contemporary artist introduces the collection at Watts Gallery and the themes behind it. Participants learn art and design skills and how to express ideas and issues they care about.
All participants in the project are invited to exhibit and sell their work in an annual exhibition and young people involved in the project are invited to take part in Arts Awards. The project is inspired by the social enterprise work of Mary Watts who led the creation of the Watts Chapel, involving seventy local people to whom she taught craft skills in evening classes.
Both Mary and G F Watts believed that art could transform lives. The Big Issues Project has touched the lives of hundreds of participants since 2008 and has proven to contribute to indivudals rehabilitation and wellbeing.
Chris Wilson is an artist, writer and member of the Not Shut Up Academy. He was born in Newcastle, grew up in Dar es Salaam, East Africa, and moved to the USA in the 1970s. Ruin is a book of his paintings.
“I started out painting in my flat, where I lived, absolute chaos. Painted the ceilings, the walls, I could barely get into the doors. Girlfriends were lost. You couldn’t bring kids there. I lived ferally, as a result of living the way I had lived before, on the streets of here and there. I am now embracing some of that ferality, knowing I can live like that, I can go without electric, without conventional forms of order. I think it’s a strength which frees me up to be more honest in my work.
The title of this book, “Ruin”, might sound like I am being defeatist, but it’s not as simple as that. Although I only stated painting recently, I’ve been writing since I can remember. Back in my San Francisco days I was also in bands, and so lyrics and music were important for me. They come from the very same source, connect with the same things as my visuals. “Ruin” was something that came to me in prison, when I was in CRC (California Rehabilitation Centre) and thinking if I ever had a band again, which is what you wonder about as you lie in your bunk, I’d call it Ruin. It’d been fifteen years since I last played anything, but still hoping I got it tattooed on my chest. A Mexican prisoner did it. It’s a shitty faded thing now, as all good tattoos should be, home made ink, out of melted chess pieces, toothpaste, tattooing machines made with a high E guitar string, a Walkman spindle and a compass connected to a battery pack. Fantastic. I smile, ‘cos I’m very fond of those memories, that innocent crazy fucked up world, where human kindness does exist. Yeah, it’s brutal, and you do find all those crazy people, but there is a form of sincerity which you don’t get out here.”
More about Chris Wilson’s RUIN exhibition:
For the past year José Orozco has been serving a custodial sentence in one of London’s Victorian prisons. He spent all his time there painting pictures, both as a regular member of the education department’s art class and on his own; art tutors gave him paint and brushes to take back to his cell. Most prison artists who discover a creative vocation in these unlikely circumstances have no formal art training. This was not the case with José. After completing a degree in Photography and Digital Imaging, he had worked as a photojournalist and video editor for 10 years before being sentenced in 2012.
Visually literate, and equipped with a contemporary set of image-making and storytelling skills, he has had to learn a very different medium of expression – a much slower one. From this unexpected process a more personal artist has emerged, and over a short but accelerated period of activity he has produced more than enough work to warrant a wider audience.
José assembles compositions with his photographer’s eye, using saturated colour and tonal contrasts in bold figure and landscape compositions. Inexperience with a new medium gives his developing skills a poignant character, though he doesn’t hesitate to tackle technically ambitious challenges – foreshortening, translucency, atmospheric perspective, foliage – when attempting dramatic effects.
He paints with acrylics on prison cloth stretched over bits of board, priming them first from the 5 litre tin of mustard-coloured emulsion paint in the art-room. When they’re finished, he rolls them up and sends them out to his daughter, re-using the boards for another picture.
Do his pictures reflect his current circumstances? Some desolate settings might suggest a reference, but he’s not a member of the gritty realism school of prison art. Instead he prefers a form of escapist melodrama, creating cinematic compositions with the help of his framing and editing skills. Photographs from magazines, books and newspapers help him in much of his work, but he is not so interested in the work of other artists. Though other prisoners are greatly impressed, José says he doesn’t have any particular audience in mind. He is simply absorbed by the self-forgetting experience that painting brings him.
Other pressures and pursuits frustrated Donald Grayson’s early creative ambitions, but three years ago he received a lengthy custodial sentence and took up art again. Encouraged by sympathetic tutors in his prison art class, a vocation developed, shaped by the challenging circumstances life had now bestowed. Prison could be lonely, crowded, noisy, boring, traumatic, but it could also be funny.
Donald responded with brightly coloured paintings featuring storybook characters from English folklore, their narratives suggesting sitcoms or soaps, pub scenes from The Rover’s Return or The Queen Vic. Other paintings are more poignant; one showing Mr. Punch hanging himself in a prison cell upset some. Others found his colour garish. He was encouraged by these reactions – they suggested he was onto something.
Like many artists before him, Stephen Peterson is a story teller. He wants to tell us what’s happened to him on his journey through the UK’s criminal justice system, and since his release last year, he has more stories to tell. Unencumbered by formal art training, he has developed a diagrammatic technique which allows him to present these experiences as clearly as possible, sometimes as a sequence of events.
In the series of seven pictures entitled ‘Release’, Stephen shows the challenges a prisoner faces leaving custody. This graphic format of the morality tale isn’t new; past artists like William Hogarth and Frans Masereel have frequently used it as a powerful form of social and political commentary. But Stephen’s vision is his own. We are drawn into a complex world in which compromise and hypocrisy challenge us at every turn. As we study each absorbing detail, we recognise this world as ours, made unflinchingly visible.
Artist’s statement and commentary
I am a self taught artist whom had never tried to draw or paint before going into custody. I started to sketch to help the time pass and found it was something that felt very natural to me. My family sent me books on how to draw and paint using water colours which I worked through from cover to cover. At first I copied images from books and magazines until an Officer who was a painter encouraged me to try using my feeling and experiences to create my own images.
Being in a Therapeutic Prison gave me lots of inspiration to begin creating my own images in my own style. I began working with acrylic paints which gave me the vibrancy I wanted from my paintings and developed a way of telling stories through the images I created. I was encouraged to submit my artwork into the Koestler Awards and began winning awards and having my work selected for the exhibition held yearly at the ‘Royal Festival Hall’ in London.
I received complimentary comments of my exhibited work from the Koestler judges and the visiting public which boosted my confidence in my abilities as an artist and fuelled my passion to create larger and more complex pieces. I enjoy creating artwork that holds the viewers attention, makes the viewer ask questions of the image and themselves and feel the desire to return to view it again and again.