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!”