by Melissa Wang and Isa Berliner, JAC Interns
The creative process enables us to see good in the world and people around us. Brian Hindson’s story and his collaborative work with other incarcerated artists exemplify this exceptional power of art.
His creative story begins, surprisingly, twenty-two years after leaving art school. Although Brian attended art school for a couple of years after graduating high school, he didn’t reconnect with art until he was in prison, more than two decades later. Now, he uses a variety of different styles, paints, and materials to express himself through his art.
What does it mean to be an artist? Brian would say voice. In elementary school, Brian drew his classmates, who in turn considered him an “artist.” He continued to enjoy artmaking throughout high school simply because of his natural talent, although he began to struggle in art school due to what he guesses was a mix of “outside distractions” and “immaturity.” Afterward, he didn’t continue with art as a path because he didn’t have a voice to share through his body of work.
The years passed while Brian pursued other things over artistry, and he eventually ended up in prison. While inside, he “found a voice, a re-discovered talent, and more so peace” from artmaking. Prison can be isolating and at times devoid of hope. For Brian, art has helped him keep his sanity. In fact, it is his surroundings that inspire him: “There is a LOT of negativity in prison,” he writes, “Everything’s bad…I try to see the positive things – the good things.” He searches for the sparks of hope that are so often overlooked. Relating art to character, he concludes that his way of looking for the good is how he hopes others will look at him, “as a person.”
Access to materials has always been a unique challenge to incarcerated artists, and Brian has adapted by using whatever paint or drawing tools he can find. Although he prefers acrylic paint, he is capable of creating not only with any materials but also in a variety of styles – from “realistic to fractured.” Balancing rigorous thought prior to artmaking with a flexibility and fluidity during the process, Brian allows his paintings to morph when needed.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, materials have been even more difficult to find. The pandemic “has been horrible for artists in prison,” says Brian, “with mostly no access to art materials” and no way of getting to their art lockers. He himself currently only has a black pen and paper, or handkerchiefs.
What can we do to support Brian and other incarcerated creators at this time? “Highlight artists,” Brian says. “People love praise.” Brian recently created and organized a collaborative project with several other incarcerated artists. To learn more about the process and see the final collaborations, please read on. We encourage you to share your thoughts in the comments below!
Brian Hindson’s collaborative project:
Brian Hindson’s original painting was made for the NLADA Social Justice Art Auction. After discussing and deliberating an idea with others, he chose to add a paintbrush to the painting: “something meaningful to me.” He had always wanted to do a collaborative piece and thought this could be a good opportunity.
Brian started by tracing his original painting to make a black and white version for the copy machine — keeping only the details he felt were important. The process was more difficult than expected when the first copycard he bought didn’t work well. He was finally able to get successful copies for 15 cents each, noting that 15 cents is “more per hour than most inmates earn in jobs in The Box.”
After making copies, Brian distributed them with basic instructions to “paint, color, decorate or add anything you want.” Brian kept his directions simple because he didn’t want to influence what people returned to him. However, reflecting on the pieces he got back, Brian found it interesting that no one added anything into the hands. Some did choose to add words, and as Brian describes, “some of the added words, well they speak, while some yell.”
Click for a closer look:
Brian was especially impressed by William Brown’s interpretation, who made his piece using collage. “William surpassed my hopes for what someone could do with my directions and his creativity.” Brian describes watching William search for resource materials to use in his collage, “being very judicious in his selections of colors and not settling.” In the end, Brian thinks William’s art is a better piece than his original, and “that makes me happy!”
5 thoughts on “Artist Spotlight: Brian Hindson”
Dear Brian: I wanted to share my impressions of your work. It’s memorable and will stay with me for some time.
Untitled – Man with Clasped Hands
What’s a beautiful face? For me, it’s in the tension between opposites — clarity and compassion, calm and courage. Hindson conveys this complexity with great skill, the planes, and shadows, the mosaic of browns on the skull and cheeks, the gesture of the hands, the lavender folds in a white shirt, and the textures of skin and beard. Notice the artist does this without lines, using only watercolors to define shapes. One misbehaving drip and you’re lost! The sitter glances to the right with a hint of a smile. The tension of beauty is especially in his deep-set, clear eyes, which hold memories and, at the same time, connect with the present moment.
Well, we spoke of tension. What moves me here is the tension between the rotting pier and the explosive — practically thermonuclear sky — its blues, greens, and yellows — foreshadowing the world’s decay and a coming apocalypse. The clouds rush towards low-down us as dawn bursts upon the scene. They’re organic in shape, like a snakeskin or exoskeleton. And for all its majestic brilliance, that sky, those clouds, are threatening and consuming us in intensity. Meanwhile, the cleats on the dock look like crosses, with the third cross being the ship’s mast in the center, perhaps. I wasn’t sure.
NOT MY BRUSH
Again, Hindson creates a sense of dimension using colors instead of lines – which is a masterful thing to have done. What moved me was the defiance for the sake of art and creativity — hiding the gold-tipped brush as their instrument while the CO’s weapon of destruction juxtaposes itself. Where is he headed and where is he being escorted to leaves us questioning the artist’s fate and our own.
At first glance, we were bemused by what looked like pink flowers on the floor and ceiling — a child’s room for sick grown-ups! Ha, take a closer look. These are viruses, not flowers. The irony is what moved me and has planted itself in my mind. After all, these men are very sick without anyone in attendance. They stare into space, afraid and alone. One wonders why put a patient sapped of his strength by COVID on a top bunk. How is he supposed to get down, or is he even expected to? The man in the bunk is wearing a full, white mask covering his entire face, a death mask reminiscent of the Venetian masks, which, beginning in the 13th century, were worn for fun — and to protect against deadly viruses. The fun has been stripped away eight centuries later, leaving us to our own devices.
Thank you, Brian, for sharing these moving images — Louis
Dear Brian Hindson: I wanted to share some of my reflections on your work.
There is a calm surrender portrayed in the portrait. Meditative.
The watercolor and drawing are excellent. You have captured the beauty in this man’s magnificent skin colors. There is such warmth and intimacy in his gaze. The glance is bold, confident, and appears to be praying.
This piece is masterful. It has so much going on for a landscape. It’s not restful but still beautiful. The under color of the clouds is reptilian and creates amazing texture. I am drawn into the horizon and sun setting. This is a masterpiece and so evocative. I love all the colors and the relationship to the black pier.
Keep up the work. Well done!
Thanks for sharing your work, Sacha
Your work is great. Left prison Dec 16th 2021 after serving 37 yrs. I brought a lot of art out with me. People seem to love them. Art show in the making. This is all knew to me.
We appreciate you for always taking the time to read our posts and share your thoughts, Todd!
Always spectacular in my opinion. I guess I find him interesting because him and I have, pretty much, similar ideals as he does. Except my work is a bit more cynical and I tend to focus on the bad points of living in this ridiculous world. I was doing this way before Covid virus was even a thought. I really like the simplicity, yet the complexity, of his drawings. I’m a giant fan of Brian Hindson and hope he continues to make reality available to the world.