Listen to an interview with John:
John Zenc has been creating art for over 40 years. Incarcerated at 20 years old, John has a lot of amazing stories to tell both from his early life and from his 44 years in prison. He wishes someone would make a movie about his life, including the stories of how he enlisted in the army twice, featured as an extra in a movie, became a bodybuilder, and revamped his prison yard into what some now call “John’s Park.” So while John is eager to share his whole life with the public, the thing he most desires to share is his art.
John loves to share the fact that his art can be found all over the world; even John Lennon once purchased some of his artwork from a boutique. John often compares his work to that of Picasso, though he really has a unique style of his own. His work covers a variety of topics, often very personal, and each piece is marked with his signature and his right thumb print. His vintage collection dates all the way back to 1977, and he is still creating to this day. His most recent works which center around the BLM movement and the COVID-19 crisis. He advocates for kindness and equality in these pieces, demanding that we “stop all the hate and violence. Show compassion to all.”
With a great number of health problems dwelling on his mind, John says, “My top goal in life before I die is to show everybody my art. I want the world to see my style.” We want nothing more than to help him achieve this goal.
I myself love to create art. I wanted to continue to create art in prison to show people I did not waste my time in here doing nothing or being up to no good – but rather I created odd and fun art to show that my time in here was not wasted. I create art to show society how important art is; how it is so vital to be able to express one’s self. Without art, the world would be a dull and boring place. In prison, art has even more meaning to prison artists – it is an escape into a world of wonder, a world of hope and love, a world of unknowns. Art lets me tell the world that I am sorry for my selfish actions 44 years ago. Art lets people know, we, I, am more than just a prison number, but a human being with human emotions, a person that should not be ignored and locked away forever. Art shows people who I am. Art shows how I forgive myself for what I did 44 years ago. You all may hate me for who I was, but please don’t hate me for who I have become. As John Lennon sang – “Give Peace a Chance.” Stop all the hate. Life’s too short. Show love and compassion to all – no matter who they are. Love can change the world.
I would like all people to see that I created art and that I did not waste my time in here. I want people to know that there are prisoners who really can change – change for the better. Again – hate me for who I was – not for who I am now. Otherwise your lives will always be bitter. Life is easier living with good thoughts, good feelings. And when you spread good thoughts and good feelings, things start to fall into place. Everybody needs love. Even prisoners. I pray for people to start treating each other with respect, kindness and love. I been in prison 44 years so if I can change myself, it’s not too late for you all to also change – give it a try, you’ll feel better about yourselves – and your children will try to learn from you. Be an example for the young people. This is how change starts – make it a movement, make it a part of your day – everyday. I want the world to know my art – who I am now. I want this to be done before I die. Maybe my art and my words can help others, or inspire others. Wouldn’t that be nice.