By Clare Walker, JAC Intern
Charles Finney was raised in Macon, GA, surrounded by creative people of a variety of disciplines. From construction workers, musicians, and his dad’s cabinet making, to farmers and street hustlers, “growing up you had to be a jack of all trades.” As such, he has been creating from a young age. Beginning with woodworking, which he learnt from his father, his more “formal introduction to art came when [he] was in the eighth grade,” when his “art teacher Mrs. Shelton taught [him] everything from sculpture to classical music.”
Once incarcerated, art became an escape, a safe haven to counter the repressive tactics of the prison system. Charles writes that, “prison can destroy you on many levels, physically, emotionally, and spiritually because it’s an abnormal environment created to demean, emasculate, and strip a person of all self-esteem.” But art serves as an opportunity to resist such attempted destruction, an opportunity to exercise imagination and originality, act on inspiration, and forge another reality.
The art Charles has come to create inside consists mostly of Q-tips, scrap paper, glue, and paint: “I did a lot of wood craft on the street, but on death row you have limited access to everything.” The COVID pandemic only forced him to be more resourceful. Without direct access to any of the items he uses, Charles has been forced to depend upon the help of others, paying them by trade or cash to bring him the materials he uses.
Despite limitations, Charles has forged a wildly resourceful paper craft that “is a combination of paper mache and modeling techniques.” In his practice, much of his work has taken the form of animal and human sculptures: “I am inspired by life itself. I make a lot of animals and human sculptures from memory, but I’m always looking for ideas to create something new.” His work exhibits a remarkable ability to pull from memory to recreate in the present. Beyond this, it illustrates an inspiring capacity to see beauty in everyday objects, to give them new life in re-creation. Of one of his more recent works of a flower and butterfly Charles wrote, “it represents freedom to me.”In speaking on his experience with JAC, Charles emphasizes the importance of his work being in communication with a wider community: “I appreciate the visibility that JAC has given me, the response I’ve received from exhibits has been encouraging and I look forward to hearing from people, their kindness and support has allowed me to continue making pieces.” For it is not only the experience of making art that is healing, but that of sharing art with others.
“I would like to see more people get involved in JAC because behind every piece of art, there is a human being that is locked in a cage”
As Charles illustrates, art is a reflection of the artist. When viewed this way, interaction with art can be seen as akin to interaction with the artist, allowing us to transcend the inorganic physical boundaries which have been forced upon us, and to connect with one another. His art exemplifies the value of this connection. For when art can be understood as a living object, as a reflection of the life of the artist themself, the power it holds is endless.