Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Trio of work for Decision Portraits Series

(Above:  Friend to Those in Prison, Decision Portrait Series.  Stitched words:  Letters + Visits that Touch Lives.  Xylene photo transfer on tea-stained muslin.  Hand beaded and stitched.  25" x 19" unframed; 31" x 25" framed.  Click on image to enlarge.

Barbie Mathis
is a talented, professional artist.  Her watercolors carry a distinctive, naturalistic style, vibrant colors, and glazes of atmospheric depth.  She's also a lovely person, inside and out; so, it came as no surprise to me that she extends herself to others.  What I didn't know until embarking on the Decision Portrait Series is that Barbie generously shares hope with several people who are incarcerated. 

(Friend to Those in Prison, detail 1.  Click on image to enlarge.)

She told me how it all started.  There was a bank robbery in West Columbia.  The police captured all of the robbers....except one....who was known to be lurking in an affluent neighborhood.  Everyone was scared.  Barbie and her church prayer group prayed for all those living in the area.  The bank robber was finally apprehended after trying to high-jack a car at gunpoint. 

(Friend to Those in Prison, detail 2.  Click on image to enlarge.)

Then, the newspaper carried an article in which the "villain" was described as having been a popular high school graduate and an active former church member.  Barbie was stunned.  She'd been praying for everyone involved except the one person that likely needed it most....the bank robber.  She went to visit him.  She's been writing to him ever since and to several of his friends.  Barbie spreads words of hope and forgiveness.

(Above:  Prisoner II, Decision Portrait Series.  Stitched words:  I robbed a bank.  Xylene photo transfer on tea-stained muslin.  Hand stitched and beaded.  Unframed:  25" x 19"; Framed:  31" x 25".  Click on image to enlarge.)

Barbie took the photo I used to create the portrait above.....right through the Plexi-Glas prison barrier.  The young man will not be part of the general population for years but will be ready for that day when it comes.  He's got a connection to something good, to hope, to religion, and to someone who cares enough to write letters.  It makes a difference. 

(Prisoner II, detail.  Click on image to enlarge.)

I'm sure this young man agreed to participate in this series because of Barbie's positive influence.  He hopes that someone will see his image and think about the humanity that really is part of prison life.  He hopes, like Barbie and I hope, that there might be viewers at the upcoming exhibition who have friends or relatives in prison.  Perhaps, coming face-to-face with his outward staring eyes, these people will be prompted to reach out and communicate a word or two of hope.  It would make a difference.

(Above:  Prisoner I, Decision Portrait Series.  Stitched words:  I let drugs nearly ruin my LIFE.  Hand stitched and beaded.  Unframed:  25" x 19"; Framed:  31" x 25".)

The lady in this portrait is also in prison.  I was put in touch with her through another source.  Our method of communication is by letters.  She wrote about her life, how she neglected her children, herself, and everything she held most dear while spiraling down into a world of lawless drug use.  
(Above:  Prisoner II, detail.  Click on image to enlarge.)
In prison, she found hope.  She writes to her family.  They write to her.  It makes a difference.  She is very upfront about her crimes, her mistakes, and her recovery.  In order to share her decisions, she sent me a photo.  I scanned it.  This portrait is the result.  This blog post will be printed, put into an envelope, and mailed to her.  She hopes that those seeing her image will reflect on it....see a transformed woman....see both the mistakes and the corrections.  Life is a series of decisions.  None of us have made all the "right" ones.  All of us must decide how to handle the poorer ones we've made and how to react to people who paid for their mistakes with prison time.
 (Above:  Prisoner II, detail.  Click on image to enlarge.)


Lynn said...

Wow...this is simply amazing. You are hitting so many areas of concern in our world. How many peoples lives will be displayed in the final show? Are you continuing to make more and more? This is simply amazing. Yes, I said that already. Well...it just IS!

Julie said...

These three quilts are inspired and very emotive. We could all so easily make a bad decision and take the wrong road in life. This body of work is a tribute to your insights and to the people who have shared their lives with everyone through the exhibition. Stunning!

Magpie's Mumblings said...

Simply amazing and stunning indeed! I so hope that you will be able to publish a book of all of these when you are done - I know I would buy it and I'm sure there are a LOT of others out there that would feel the same way. What you are doing is SO powerful that it needs to be spread throughout the world.

lindacreates said...

These are wonderful Susan. I visit my grandson weekly in the local jail over a monitor and write him as well. Until you have a family member incarcerated most rarely think about it. I just hope it makes a difference in his life!

Susan said...

Thank you all for such wonderful comments. When this series started I knew I wanted "a lot" of portraits but had no idea how many would add up to this idea. I just started with the pieces I could get by asking people I knew. The first was my sister Wanda....and in the early pieces there was my insurance agent, my UPS driver, friends, and my self portrait. As I worked, the idea of a "wish list" on the Internet took form and I got some blogging cyber friends which meant I needed to share the finished work with them before posting it on the Internet. This also created the need for "model's releases" and a process of sharing a "rough draft" of the intended blog post to each participant. A real "system" evolved. Right now.....I've got two portraits ready to post and I'm waiting to hear from three other participants before posting their pieces. I'm also waiting on a few digital images from potential participants and have a stack of about fourteen works waiting for stitch....plus one to photograph before writing to that "model". Somewhere in all this, the idea for a book has surfaced....because a lot of the writing is already done! So...yes...there will be some sort of physically bound pages....which I'm starting TODAY! It might only be a three-ring binder with an image and "statement" about each piece that will sit on a nice, white pedestal in the exhibition space....available for viewers who might want to know more about the portraits in the location.....because exhibition viewers will not be SEEING the words beside each piece. They will only be coming face-to-face with the images of real people who have made real decisions. I'll have to see how the "three ring binder" idea works out....how a "book" might really take form from this before committing to looking for a publisher. Yesterday and the day before I checked my "list of completed pieces". I accidentally forgot two of them! They've now been added....all this is important because I must have a full list for City Gallery....for the exhibition labels...and in order to determine placement of all the works within the space before I arrive for the installation! Thanks so much for your interest and support!