I really enjoy painting but for some reason I’m not satisfied with my work … not quality mind you, but content; you’d think that after what I thought was 20 years of painting that I’d have found my comfort zone, but obviously not. My journal says I started painting in 2003; I actually thought it was earlier, but the record doesn’t lie, so 18 years.
When I was at USP Florence, I’ll guess around 2005, I had a friend there names Antonio Guerrero, Tony was one of the infamous “Cuban Five”, like me Tony was an artist, a painter. Tony had a great deal of talent and a hell of a work ethic – he produced a lot of work. Later we kind of fell-out because I mentioned to him that he needed to slow his production down and do BETTER quality work, which he was very capable of doing, “Better to do 10 pieces of good work than a 100 pieces of mediocre work.” I should have minded my own business it cost me a friend, but, like I said, he was very talented and very capable of doing top quality work and I wanted him to show his talent to succeed on merit instead of fame only.
Now Tony was famous in certain circles, real famous, and he received a lot of mail. I remember one day he came to show me a letter he’d received from a famous Cuban artist, a lady, offering advice and encouragement; one artist to another. I don’t remember much about what she said, except this one thing: “Keep painting until you find your voice.”
A few years later when I was at FCI Pollock I of course continued to draw and paint. While there one of the guys suggested that I draw scenes from prison, he suggested I capture common things like men standing in long lines, sitting around playing cards, walking and so forth. I listened to him, but for some reason I ignored his suggestion – but, like a seed in the dirt, it was planted in my mind. But, truth is I didn’t want to capture this ugly life – I wanted instead to paint pretty things like women and flowers – no old men, no dope fiends, no suffering, of any kind. Women and flowers, beautiful, happy things.
My favorite painter is a fellow from Spain named Jose Royo. Senior Royo paints women and flowers. If I could be granted a painters wish it would be to paint like him. I like his work so much I mentioned him to my daughter, she investigated him, liked his work and subsequently bought a few of his paintings for her collection; her collection includes a lot of famous artists, oh, and about 50 of my paintings … uhmm … what? No, not exactly … alright, my paintings are not ACTUALLY in her collection, but … OKAY!! they’re in the trunk of an old car out in back of her house – but she has ’em, alright. Just forget I mentioned it!! … I bet Jose Royo never got a text from her saying, “I love you!” … at least I hope not! Darn artists 😦
Due to Corona restrictions… and financial needs, I took a job working for the Recreation Department here at FCI Three Rivers. My job: I paint whatever they tell me to. I’ve painted large backdrops for the men to stand in front of to take pictures, I’ve painted signs and large plaques for offices and I’m scheduled to do some murals. NO!! I f-ing HATE it, but, without this job the corona restrictions would have it so I’d be stuck in my cellblock all day, I couldn’t paint – so I paint what they ask me to without a complaint … that’s a lie, I complain a little … that ain’t true either, I bitch like hell about having to paint signs and such, but, I do it anyway, mostly because the folks I work for treat me really well; that makes a lot of difference to me.
About a month ago the main boss at Rec. told me he had a project for me to do – basically, he wanted me to paint three pretty good sized paintings for one of the inside hallways … hmmm. You know from my past postings that I am very conscious of only being able to paint somewhere around 500 painting, my ENTIRE life, so I sure as hell don’t want to GIVE the f-ing prison system three of those 500 … but, I take the $40.00 a month pay, so it’s only right that I do the work, that’s the deal, and it’s better than painting signs, so I agreed; he left the content of these three paintings to my artistic expression … no restricted content.
Well, I quickly came to the conclusion that I didn’t think that women and flowers were appropriate for a men’s prison – but what to paint … hmm, Gay guys and flowers maybe? Just kidding 🙂 After a few hours of careful thought I concluded that the logical thing to paint was something with a prison motif, what… yeah, I know gay guys are part of prison motif … but, I … oh, forget I even mentioned that. The point is, what to paint and how to paint it? An idea came to me and I began to paint, and to paint and the more I pained the more came, it seemed to flow from my veins … I just painted and it all came together.
Last week I finished the first painting – it has 15 faces, well, 14 and the back of one head, men in prison uniforms with prison numbers from all around the country – they are hodge-podged on the canvas with their clothing almost abstract in design, and when I finished it I knew that I had painted something new, something valuable, something meaningful. I was ecstatic! What I had painted was very different in context and in style from anything I had previously painted … I remember being told to “paint prison” and I remember reading, “find your voice.”
18 years of painting and just maybe … well, I don’t know if I’ve found my voice, but I have certainty found something. We shall see where it goes from here.
Peace be with you, Mark
Three Rivers, 9-6-21