I’m Sticking With Photography…

2 comments July 23rd, 2006at 01:36am Posted by Eli

Necessity is the mother of M&M art:

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….  By evening’s end, six of the postcard paintings had sold, for $500 each.

(…)

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….

(…)

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.”

(…)

“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.”

I’m not entirely clear on why the prison won’t let him have real art supplies; I guess there’s some kind of message here about how Art will always find a way.

Entry Filed under: Media,Weirdness

2 Comments

  • 1. Neil Shakespeare  |  July 23rd, 2006 at 2:54 am

    Well geez, why doesn’t he just use blood from his victims?

  • 2. oldwhitelady  |  July 23rd, 2006 at 11:01 pm

    If you bought one of the postcards, you’d have to put it up, somewhere, where ants can’t reach it. Wouldn’t there still be sugar in the color?


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