History of "Resurrected: Portraits of Innocence"
I was a career art teacher for the inner-city Pittsburgh Public Schools for many years. Thirty-four to be exact. It is an accomplishment I am very proud of. During that time I worked with many youths who wound up on the wrong side of the law. Some killed. Some were killed. Some got caught up in the legal system and found themselves being accused of petty crimes that they didn’t commit. After being gone from my class for a while, they would return asking, “Why me?” I tried to explain to them that the criminal justice system is not always fair, is somewhat broken, and is simply best to be avoided. I would tell them that sometimes the easy people to blame get fingered for crimes they didn’t commit.
The same kids would often get into trouble over and over again. They were caught up in a vicious cycle and their crimes escalated as their anger over their situation increased. During my final few years of teaching I saw more angry students than ever before. As the anger level increased the school became a physically unsafe place to work. Student-on-student assaults escalated. Student-on-faculty assaults escalated. A culture of anger and fear dominated daily life. Eventually, the anger was directed at me. The teaching of art, which I had loved so much, became very difficult. Simply trying to maintain order required 110% of my energy. I decided that it was time to retire from the classroom.
I became a full-time painter. The first thing I did was to attempt to paint the anger that I had lived with so closely during my final years of teaching. The end result was a series of portrait paintings which I called “The Young Urban Warrior Portraits.” Painting these portraits was a cathartic experience for me. Eventually, on the strength of these paintings, I was given the opportunity to have a solo exhibition of new paintings at The Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. But what to paint? Having removed myself from the classroom and having painted the angry portraits eliminated the tension that I had felt. I wanted to paint something that could help people. I wanted to create socially responsible art.
Remembering my students, I decided to focus on the wrongfully convicted. I wanted to increase the awareness of ordinary citizens to this terrible problem in our society. Sometimes the role of an artist can be that of the people’s conscience. I wanted to create art that is not supposed to be entertaining to the viewer. I wanted to create art that was confrontational. Painful realities tend to become invisible for most people. I wanted to give a visual voice to the problem of wrongful incarceration. Hopefully my art would act as a mirror to the viewer that will affect change for the unfortunate people that this has happened to.
The results of my work have been made into an exhibit named “Resurrected.” The thirteen people depicted in my paintings have served a total of 203 years in prison – 71 on death row – for crimes they did not commit. All were sentenced to death or given sentences of life imprisonment. The exhibit is made up of 26 pieces of art. One painting and one drawing per individual. The paintings are monumental in size. Some are nearly seven feet in height. The drawings are smaller, more intimate, with text revealing the souls of the individuals in their own words. I believe the exhibit encompasses the emotional, the spiritual, and the political.
In the past 14 months I have had four exhibitions of “Resurrected.” The solo exhibits were at The Westmoreland Museum of American Art, at Penn State University, at Point Park University, and at Westmoreland County Community College. Also, since my retirement from the classroom, I have exhibited in nine group juried exhibitions, all in the western Pennsylvania area, where I have won several awards and prizes.
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