Artist Spotlight: O.G. Blue

By Molly Wooliver

Marlowe Brown was born in Asheville, North Carolina but moved coast to coast and back again before he was old enough to go to school. He describes having had “a typical childhood of a young person of color”: he went to school, joined the track and field team, and participated in other school-related activities. But things changed, and ‘typical became atypical’ when Marlowe’s classmates noticed he had blue eyes. The girls seemed to like it, but the boys didn’t, resulting in a couple of fights a week. Although the fighting came naturally to him, talking to girls did not. Girls liked him but conversing did not come easily: “I would often get tongue-tied.”

Marlowe Brown first became ‘O.G. Blue’ when a particularly pretty girl passed him a note in class. He wrote back and was able to say exactly what he felt on paper. She shared the note with her friends, and after that, every girl in the class wanted a note from him. He wouldn’t label himself as the smartest kid in school, but his favorite class was English, where, he says, “I did learn one thing, which was that pen and paper are a powerful communication tool.”

Blue’s creative process is simple. “I think of exactly what I want to say, sort of like putting a puzzle together in my head, and when it’s done, I lay down the completed puzzle.” These days he finds inspiration in a lot more things than he was able to when he was younger. When he first started writing poetry, it was only about a particular idea or person, but later in life, he discovered he could turn anything into verse. “Real people inspire me, smart people. A happy situation inspires me; a special lady inspires me, one that you think of even when you’re supposed to be concentrating on something else.” 

Writing has helped him throughout his years of incarceration because, through his text, he can paint a picture with words, whether he’s writing to family, friends, or for business purposes. “When I was in high school, I could actually relate to people and situations better through pen and paper rather than in person, but as I grew, attended a few civic organizations, I can speak and express myself in person, even public speaking now.”

Writing has also helped him in processing his experiences and emotions. He says that a lot of his writing is inspired by real-life: “[Everyone knows that] the sun doesn’t shine every day, and I bring that to a point.”

“Poetry and writing awaken my mind to things that I could only dream of and I wanted to hold onto that thought for as long as I possibly could; therefore, I put it to pen and paper for a lasting reminder.”

Although O.G. Blue’s primary focus is poetry, he is currently expanding his portfolio and writing three thriller novels: High Anxiety, Why Are We Here?, and Never Die Alone. Writing comes to him more naturally now, whether in verse, letters, or novels. The real challenge he faces with writing is when it comes to legal matters, and he says his difficulties in that area exist for a reason. “Most people of color are laymen with the judicial system. After all, it was meant to be that way”. The COVID-19 crisis has made Marlowe feel more aware of life because, for now, the world is in a vulnerable position like never before. He reflects on his personal losses and shares: “An old associate of mine just recently passed due to the COVID virus, everyone that knew him would acknowledge him as Old Joe, he will be remembered”. Things have never been this different. He misses the idea of the ‘old world’ — a world older than COVID, a time with fewer technologies. A simpler time, “when you could tell the make of a car just from its sight, a handshake was prevalent, and when you were invited into your neighbor’s house, you could take your shoes off and sit a spell.”

“The mental picture on the poem, ‘Old Friends’, was how life was in what I consider now, ‘the old world’, when you could leave your windows up on a hot summer’s nite, a handshake between men sealed a deal. When a man’s word represented him even bad things had a reason, not accepted but they were less complicated and demented. When our kids went to school and returned safe and sound.”

“The poem ‘Between Us’ was based on the fact of something all humans long for. In other human-beings which is trust, compassion, understanding and respect. Once these emotions are acquired and acknowledged; it’s like magic. Then you have a relationship as strong as King Kong.”

You can view more of O.G. Blue’s work in our galleries. If you are interested in connecting with an artist experiencing incarceration like O.G. Blue, please sign up for our pARTner Project!

Artist Spotlight: David Green

by Isa Berliner, JAC Intern

“I want to show the world that in imperfection there is beauty.”

For David Green, every day is a struggle to express his creativity. Hindered by his institution, it would be easy for David to give up and stop making art. Still, he is determined to keep creating, saying, “I will continue to try and reach and hopefully help others in the world know that no matter what we go through in life, be it poverty, death, or losing someone or something, something beautiful is there in the end and we can overcome.”

Though David never received a formal education in art or poetry, he has always been able to discover new ways to improve his drawing and writing. Every time he closes his eyes — since the day he started creating at a very young age — he is flooded with ideas: poems to write or ways to better his art. He laughs, saying, “I have suffered from a long life of insomnia since I was six.” 

It’s not always simple or possible for David to create. He describes how the people he is incarcerated with, the staff, and the lack of funds for art supplies all pose challenges. He adds with a laugh that the lack of tables and chairs also hinder his art making. But David views these difficulties as minor problems. The greater obstacle is that “there is a time when people’s ungratefulness makes one discouraged from wanting to draw.” Yet, despite these challenges, David finds ways to continue making art and writing poems. 

With limited access to art supplies, David has found he can use any media he lays his hands on. When he begins a piece, David simply envisions the art or what is in his mind on the paper and draws it into existence: “I pick up, I look at my paper and just do.” 

People often ask David what inspires him, but the question is harder to answer than it may seem. “I’ve lost so much inspiration in my life that I honestly do not know what inspires me.” Still, David is confident that this will not always be the case, saying, “I do know that one day inspiration will enter my life and when that happens, I will know.”  

As the world faces the COVID-19 pandemic, David reflects that though at first he felt unaffected, he has grown increasingly concerned for his loved ones. “I do have many people out there in the world that I love no matter if they love me back or even remember me.” Feeling disconnected, David explains how, “It scares me not knowing if they are okay or not, I just hope they are okay.” 

David is grateful that he can share his art with the world and hopes he can inspire others. He wants to share the following words: 

“I love and count you all as equals in my life. Just pass what I give you to the next you see. Because we need that more than anything in this world.”

You can view more of David’s work in our galleries. If you are interested in connecting with an artist experiencing incarceration like David, please sign up for our pARTner Project!

Artist Spotlight: Chad Merrill

By Joslyn Lapinski, JAC intern

Chad Merrill’s story truly embodies the transformative power of the arts. When he was first incarcerated, Chad was on a path towards self-destruction. He barely cared about what happened to him or anyone else. He says, “I was so full of hate that I couldn’t see past my nose.”

This is a difficult mindset to escape from once in the system. There is a vicious cycle of hate and destruction that does not let people out easily. Luckily for Chad, though, he had someone pushing him off of his toxic path. A teacher named Casey constantly encouraged him to do better, asking Chad, “What do you want to do with your life?” and not letting up until he gave an answer. 

He introduced Chad to art history and they would analyze and discuss it together. Even when Chad was struggling, Casey never made him feel “anything other than his equal.” This encouragement and care is exactly what Chad needed to get on his new path: the path of an artist. He had finally discovered what he wanted to do with his life.

“My life is pretty much centered on art and around getting better at it. I had no idea that through art I could make a positive impact and seeing that in real life has lit a fire in me and after years of being a selfish asshole I can give back some and maybe even things out a bit.”

Although his art career started by analyzing historical pieces, his style is anything but traditional. At his facility, Chad does not have access to many typical art supplies. He is only allowed to work with pen and paper, but he still manages to create incredible paintings.

“I make homemade paint brushes using toothbrushes and I use a toothpaste cap to blow the pen ink into and I paint.”

By deconstructing the three pens he is allowed to purchase each week, Chad gets ink to paint with. As you might guess, he goes through pens like crazy and is always “on the grind” to find more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He is not allowed to purchase art paper so he needs to have it sent in to him. There are many restrictions on this and even when all rules are followed, getting supplies in is “hit or miss”. When Chad runs out of paper he uses snack boxes, styrofoam trays, and anything else he can get his hands on. His creativity is endless and his ability to work within his means is truly amazing. Looking at his work, you would never guess he was creating with such limited supplies.

Chad is inspired by the unique expressions of the human face and he strives to capture this in his artwork. Since every face and every expression is so different, Chad says that he never knows how his portraits will end up, but that he is always excited to see where they go.

Whenever I sit down to paint with my junky paintbrush and pen ink I’m transported out of this cell and am totally consumed with filling that piece of paper full of my emotions, my stress, anxiety, fear, love, etc. I’m able to let it all out with each little stroke and it never fails to surprise me when I’m finished at how cool it comes out. I’m completely in love with painting. Thank you for allowing me to “set free” each portrait I do. It’s stupid but I like to think that just because I’m in here it doesn’t mean they have to be as well.

So with just a few pens, a toothbrush, and some paper (if that), Chad sets out to convey the complexity of human emotion in the form of beautifully painted portraits. With each piece, he embarks on a transformative, all-consuming, and freeing journey.

“No matter what they take from me they can never take my creativity and truth is, that has forced me to become a better artist, and for that I’m thankful.”

 

You can view more of Chad’s work in our galleries. If you are interested in connecting with an artist experiencing incarceration like Chad, please sign up for our pARTner Project!

The Boy Who Only Wanted to be Loved

By John Zenc 

“The drawing of the boy who only wanted to be loved is in memory of Timy, my best friend. Timy was born with no hands, and oversized eyes. Hazel in color. Looking in Timy’s eyes, you could see his soul, see the pain, the fear, the love.

Timy would come to school, black and blue marks all over his body. I knew these marks, because I had them too. My father would beat me. Timy and I became best friends. Timy’s father would take his hate and anger out on Timy, beating him, calling him dirty names. Even though Timy’s father would beat and abuse Timy – Timy would still love and forgive his father, but no love in return from his father. I also loved and forgave my father.

The kids at school would tease little Timy and bully him relentlessly, but still Timy would smile, and be polite.

Timy and I were the outcasts in school, so we would eat lunch together, okay together, we were together all the time. I did everything for Timy, he was such a gentle soul. We even drew together. I would help him pick colors. Because of Timy I became an artist. One day Timy did not show up for school. The next day Timy’s lifeless broken body was found in the lake. His father beat and murdered Timy. Dumped his little body in the lake, his father was arrested. Timy is the boy who only wanted to be loved. This drawing is dedicated to all the bullied and abused children. Timy died at age seven.”

“This is dedicated to all the bullied and abused children.” – John Zenc

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John Zenc, an amazing artist in our network, has shared with us the incredibly vulnerable, tragic, and important story of his best friend, Timy. It explains not only Timy’s life, but also John’s beginnings in art.

Timy was a victim of bullying and abuse, to the point of his death. He had one friend, and that was John. His story is one that is difficult but necessary to discuss. Everyone knows that bullying and abuse lead to negative outcomes. This is no breaking news. However, the full extent of the long term effects are seldom discussed. Bullying and abuse during childhood are correlated with mental illnesses, conduct disorders, and more problems later in life – even incarceration. The bullying to prison pipeline is a very real problem, and one that must be addressed. The only way to do this is to address the root problem: the relentless bullying and abuse of children in our society. This is obviously no simple task, but sharing the stories of bullied and abused children is a good start to this mission.

With tears in his eyes, John wrote to me “Please spread the word. Don’t let Timy be forgotten.” So please read Timy’s story, view his beautiful portrait, and reflect on the toll bullying and abuse has taken on our society. We must fight for these children – through words, through actions, through art. 

John is doing everything he can to spread this story, even from behind bars. He asks, “How many other Timy’s are out there, being beaten, abused, teased, mistreated?” and insists that “all this abuse and bullying must come to a stop.” Stopping these hateful acts is John’s number one goal in life. So please share this story, and always remember Timy. 

 

About The Contributor:

A little history of myself. Born Feb. 3, 1957 — Honolulu, Hawaii. Been married two times. No kids, now divorced. I enlisted in the United States Army at age 15. I made a birth certificate, later my age was discovered. But when I turned 17, I re-enlisted. Both honorable discharges. I know and secretly went out with Natalie Wood, the famous actress.

Several [of my] pieces were sold to John Lennon and Johnny Carson, T.V. Personality.

My art work is now all around the world. Many people have my kids. My art is my kids. I gave life to each piece.

John Zenc

Creativity

By Christian Trigg

In the early years of the New Millennium, I was watching a series about famous artists on the little black and white TV in my cell in the federal supermax courtesy of PBS. I don’t know if they even made black and white TVs. The ones issued to us were color TVs. They had turned the color all the way down, then removed the menu button so it stayed that way. They wouldn’t want us to have it too good in our tomb, I guess.

The series profiled Caravaggio, David, Rembrant, Van Gogh and Rothko. Caravaggio was an outlaw. He died on the run wanted for killing a man in a sword duel. David sat on the French Revolutionary panel that sent a great number of aristocrats to the guillotine. Rembrant got himself blacklisted insulting the social elites… All the artists featured had controversial histories.

I read up a little on Caravaggio. Turns out artists his age ran around in “gangs” ( for lack of a better term), hung out with hookers and occasionally went at each other with swords. It wasn’t just him!  All those iconic religious paintings they left to prosperity.  I had the impression there was an abundance of devout artist monks 500 years ago… Not so much. It was more a case of the wealthiest commissioners of art where the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. Artist made ends meet painting what paid. But the character’s wielding the brushes were rebels at the heart. Not to put myself on their level but I feel a certain affinity for them.

A psychologist in a program I participated in told me  I had creative personality type. Mind you they tell everyone in maximum-security prisons that we are all sociopaths. It makes them feel better. America, in case you thought manufacturing here was dead, let me tell you you are leading the world in the production of psychos. But creative personality?

I got a little buck and that myself reading about myself. Seems my brain is wired a little differently. I traded all your practicality for my creativity and I’ve been paying for it for as long as I can remember. If you are reading this and saying that too. We are 2 out of 100 I read. It isn’t easy to be a dreamer in a practical world. My mom sent me my fourth grade report card when I tried to explain this to her. One Ms. Speak wrote, “Chris is very bright but he refuses to concentrate on the lessons.”  no doubt I was gazing out the window, doodling and daydreaming. Misunderstood I picked up the fundamentals  out of the corner of my ear.

I started to get the feeling I was a problem very young. I didn’t act out until I began to believe it in my early team. I became creative at finding trouble.

There are a lot of creative people in prison. They channel their creativity in different ways. I’ve seen feats of technical engineering that would awe MacGyver. In prison, making something out of nothing is how one lives. It manifests itself in food, creature comforts, crafts, art, and myriad other ways.  Creativity abounds. Crafty people tend to thrive. If creativity is the expression of the Soul then prisons have souls.

They say there’s a shortage of creativity in America these days. I wonder why. I bet Caravaggio, Rembrandt and all the crazy artists could relate to that.

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About The Contributor

I am an artist incarcerated in a maximum federal prison.  My sentence does not end until the next decade.

My wildlife art is my story of redemption.  My desire is to demonstrate respect, compassion and love can thrive in the darkest of places.

Each painting captures the animal in its authentic habitat.

I am self-taught.  I have never taken a lesson.  I use wildlife photography from magazines and books for my source.  

I do my paintings on the floor of my cell.  I am not allowed an easel, high quality paper or any medium but chalk pastels.

I use my thumb to blend and soften the background.  Each painting takes many hours of layering colors to highlight depth and light.

– Christian Trigg