Inside & Out Exhibition Spotlight: David Potwin, Aimee Wissman, and Mary Anna Pomonis

For a deeper look at some of the incredible pieces in JAC’s inaugural online exhibition,  Inside & Out: Photorealists to Minimalists, JAC spoke with featured artists David Potwin, Aimee Wissman, and Mary Anna Pomonis.

Amid growing calls for transformative justice and the abolition of our country’s criminal legal system, artists can play a unique role in envisioning and implementing new ways of approaching conflict, building community, and fostering healing. With so many art shows canceled in the past year, we recognize the critical importance of continuing to provide a platform for artists in and around the carceral system and are excited to carry on this mission through JAC’s unique virtual exhibition.

From abstract paintings to computer-animated video units and everything in between, Inside & Out features over 70 pieces of art from over 30 artists, reflecting the broad range of styles, media, and subject matter that inspire systems-impacted and allied artists. Nearly half of the featured artists are currently incarcerated, while the others are formerly incarcerated artists, independent artists, or teaching artists who work to facilitate art programming inside. At a time of global crisis, the artists are generously donating some or all of the profits from the sale of their original work to JAC, helping to sustain our mission of harnessing the transformative power of the arts to reimagine justice. JAC is grateful to have found support in our network of artists both inside and out. 

View the virtual gallery online at Tour the exhibition using the 3D virtual gallery feature, learn more about the artists, or look through the pieces in the gallery.

David Potwin

JAC: What is your background in art? What inspires you to create?

David Potwin: I began my first painting at 12 years old with some paints that I had come across, and a canvas panel. I had no brushes so I used various tooth picks and chewed the ends flat with my teeth to make various size brushes. The first 2 paintings hung in my grandmother Marie’s house as long as she lived. She spent countless hours coloring in coloring books with me and had a technique for mixing colors that inspired me. After that I became the classroom artist through high school and went on to major in fine arts at University of Houston. 

JAC: Could you speak a bit about your pieces in JAC’s exhibition. What was your inspiration / process?

DP: The painting “Imprisoned” is a dark visualization of the psychological impact of imprisonment on the psyche. The optical illusions and contradictory juxtapositions represent the confusing system and the maze of the different inside world and the isolation of the prisoner.

The painting “Attitude Adjustment”: ‘the flogging will continue until morale improves’ is a quote from Mutiny on the Bounty, from the tyrannical Captain Bligh. The statement is a nonsensical contradiction that also happens to be BOP policy. 

The Painting “Gothic America” is a cynical satire of Graham Nash’s famous painting, “American Gothic.” American Gothic portrays a sour, hard working midwestern couple representing the staunch backbone of the American Culture. “Gothic America” turns that on its head to represent the weakening of America by the disenfranchisement of so many citizens through the justice system and imprisonment.  

The painting  “Prison Bus” is a statement addressing the school to prison pipeline. The bus driver happens to be on the wrong side indicating the wrong approach to preparing the children of lower income families with a level playing field to take a meaningful place in society.

Aimee Wissman

JAC: What is your background in art? What inspires you to create?

Aimee Wissman: I am a self-taught artist. I began my artist journey while I was incarcerated and my work is inspired by my lived experiences, my relationship to materials, and my ideas about capitalism and U.S. history.

Could you speak a bit about your piece in JAC’s exhibition. What was your inspiration / process?

AW: #nexttimekillme was the first serious painting I made after my release. It was attempt to rectify my experience inside with the still fresh reality of the world outside. It references the violent, sexual oppression of women in the prison in the environment and balance of power between internal worlds and faces/attitudes we adopt to hide them. 

You can find me @aimeeinks and @thereturningartistsguild (a network of currently and formerly incarcerated artists)

Mary Anna Pomonis

JAC: How did you become involved in this work? What was your path to where you are today?

Mary Anna Pomonis: I became the director of the Prison Arts Collective at Cal State University Fullerton in the spring of last year. I was approached by Annie Buckley, the founder and executive director of PAC. Annie was familiar with my class (Art and Social Justice) and my community-based teaching practice. She asked me if I was interested in starting a chapter at CSUF.

JAC: How have your students impacted your own art and creative process?

MAP: This is an incredibly stressful time. My students have taught me to be more mindful and focused on the present in order to recover from 2020.

Mary Anna Pomonis

JAC: Could you speak a bit about your piece in JAC’s exhibition. What was your inspiration / process?

MAP: The piece is an imagined collar necklace for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I was devastated when she died, she represented so much hope for the future. Her work for justice has profoundly changed the world. I’d like to imagine her in the afterlife wearing this beautiful collar and blessing all of us with a more just and verdant future.

View David, Aimee, and Mary Anna’s amazing pieces and the rest of the Inside & Out exhibition here

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