Fascinating Works of Art by Convicts
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Mar 28, 2012

Fascinating Works of Art by Convicts

Picasso once said, "we artists are indestructible; even in a prison, or in a concentration camp, I would be almighty in my own world of art, even if I had to paint my pictures with my wet tongue on the dusty floor of my cell."
Acutely illustrating the passion of an artist regardless of their situation, prisoners commonly use art to express themselves. Associations such as the Koestler Trust supporting art by offenders are very active in supporting artists in prison. Here is a rundown of some fascinating works of art by convicted criminals.

Adolf Wölfli
5 - Adolf Wolfli (Irren-Anstalt Band-Hain)
  • Born on February 29th 1864, Adolf Wölfli was a Swiss artist and one of the first to be associated with so-called outsider art.
  • In 1895 Wölfli was admitted to the Waldau Clinic in Bern, Switzerland for attempted child molestation. He spent the rest of his adult life in this psychiatric hospital and soon after his admission, began to draw. 
  •  He produced a massive number of works during his life using any remnant of pencil or lead he could get his hands on. His images used up all white space, and were complex and intricate, incorporating an element of musical notation which actually interpreted as real compositions. Image: ‘Irren-Anstalt Band-Hain’ •

Michael Harms
5 - Michael Harms
  • After his conviction and subsequent long sentence for the fatal killing of his girlfriend, Michael Harms began making chairs in his cell at Menrad Correctional Centre in a strangely unique way. 
  • Incredibly ornate and medieval in quality, his pieces are intricately carved from bars of soap using sewing needles. 
  • He also makes small boxes with which to place his tiny chairs, constructed from lolly sticks and carved with by nail clippers.

Cliff Towers
5 - Cliff Towers B
  • Convicted for the possession of drugs and stolen property, Towers was sentenced to fifteen years at the Oklahoma Department of Correction.
  • Similar to Harm’s style, Towers used soap bars, wet soap, and alabaster to carve out sculptures and pictures. He began practicing on a Brent Pottery wheel and drew inspiration from the likes Constantine Brancust and Michaelangelo Buonarroti.
  • He is credited for championing the On The Rock Ministries project which helps disaffected local youths a positive environment for creativity.
5 - Cliff Towers A

John Wayne Gacy
5 - Gacy
  • The serial killer and rapist who murdered and assaulted at least 33 teenage boys, was sentenced to fourteen years on death row in 1978. In prison he began to paint, many of his works carried the theme of clowns, most significantly Pogo the clown – a character he depicted himself many times when part of the Jolly Joker clown club in the mid-70’s. 
  • A now significant aspect of the characters make-up were the sharp corners Gacy painted as opposed to the round edges on more common clown designs. 
  • Although Gacy’s paintings weren’t considered masterpieces these obviously came to notice due to his horrific crimes and the ominous link they portended. 

Chip Jarrett
5 - Chip Jarrett
  • This Michigan inmate is famous for using cardboard, paper clips, soap other miscellaneous small objects to make his elaborate and rather realistic Harley Davidson motorcycle models. 
  •  He first began his artistic endeavours because he disliked throwing away rubbish and had the realisation that he could use what many consider junk in an artistic way.

Arkee Chaney
  • This inmate of Illinois's Stateville prison uses a number of combinations in his eclectic narrative designs whether they are paintings, drawings, sculptures, jewellery or clay jars. 
  • Many of his pieces echo African tribal art and also convey social comment in the form of slavery and poverty. Chaney’s expressions were most certainly his methods of self-validation and self-assertion whilst he was imprisoned. 
5 - Chaney5 - Chaney B

Aldo Vicuna
5 - Vicuna
  • This Peruvian man formerly incarcerated in Michigan for robbery and assault charges, uses matchsticks for his artistic pieces but does so a step above the rest. 
  • A common material used in prison art, Vicuna’s sculptures of buildings and shrines are intensively decorated and colourful, and this is not just the exterior. The interiors are bright and glistening with glitter and jewel-like pebbles, some even with tiny lights!

Harvey Ford
  • Harvey Ford’s work is also rife in personal expression. His works, of which they are hundreds, are rampant in symbolic and abstract meaning which give his works a certain depth. 
  • His canvas and tool of choice were usually paper and the carbon from used matches, often illustrating strange dancing figures which were oddly expressionless.
5 - H Ford 25 - H Ford

- This article was written by CultureLabel, e-retailer for affordable art.