Tag Archives: incarcerated artists

The Artists Within: Conor Broderick on Friend and Fellow Artist, Jonathan Cashion

20 Mar

A note from the contributor, Conor Broderick, who encouraged Jon Cashion to share his work with PAC:  I feel art is very important for starting conversations about serious ideas. Expressing oneself can be good for the artist, but that artist’s work might help change someone’s life in a way that she or he might never know about. Learning about oneself is something that comes through the creative process, I have found, and so far there has been a lot of bright, colorful spontaneous expression in my work which speaks of who I am.

Abstract paintings, let alone abstract painters, are rare within the prison artist community where Jon resides. Jon began painting in March of 2016 with his long-time partner, Leslie. The two have been pushing one another and collaborating on paintings. The work that Jon and Leslie create together is a meeting of complementary styles. Leslie’s work, (which we hope to see independently soon) is surreal and combines well with Jon’s “craziness.” As with the Old Masters, two or more painters would work together on a project. Sometimes you cannot know who did what. In the end, all that matters is the effect the pieces have on the viewer.

 

The Journey

“The Journey” by Jon Cashion

With no formal art training, Jon obtains his knowledge through the various books available to him, as well as from learning from his peers. Within the prison environment, there is a lack of artistic direction to guide a developing artist. But this is where Jon sets himself apart. Jon’s work—mainly non-objective, impressionist/expressionist abstracts – is his voice. “…I have found a passion, a deep feeling of having to create something, that I can’t seem to get rid of,” he explains.

See Within

“Seeing Within” by Jon Cashion

Leslie goes into detail. “He started with these ravaged splatter paintings that resemble the result of a bunny encountering a truck in the night.” This describes the explosive energy Jon puts into his work.

Java Nightcap kangaroo

“Java Nightcap ‘Kangaroo'” by Jon Cashion

Jon is fascinated with bold hues and possesses a great eye for creating drama. He also creates on surfaces beyond the canvas, allowing him to paint more frequently. Jon makes his own canvas cut from old sheets.  He then paints the surfaces with his home-brewed gesso. For pastel work, he has developed a textured substrate painted over cardboard, using an acrylic blend containing concrete dust. Jon is currently working on a limited palette series that features homemade oil paints. No brush? No problem!  Random items become the brush – forks, toothbrushes, homemade atomizers, etc.

Yesternight's Adventure

“Yesternight’s Adventure” by Jon Cashion

Recently, Jon began to develop his figure painting skills.  He looks forward to combining this new subject matter with his familiar abstract efforts.  Jon plans to pursue finding his visual voice while future goals are to keep creating painting from life and to explore larger canvas formats.

Ice Cream at Tiffany's

“Ice Cream at Tiffany’s” by Jon Cashion

Meeting the Woman, Not the Crime

24 Jan
by Peggy Lamb
About the guest blogger: Peggy Lamb organizes Truth Be Told’s Exploring Creativity program. Truth Be Told is an Austin, TX based non-profit organization that provides transformational programs for women who are or have been incarcerated. Exploring Creativity classes use expressive arts to enlarge the women’s sense of themselves, release pain and express despair and without harming oneself or others. Leaders vary from storytellers to singers to visual artists to dancers – to quilters and yoga teachers and writers.

Twenty-eight women in dingy white uniforms file into the chapel at the Hilltop Unit in Gatesville. Most of them know me and gift me with big smiles. I feel a flood of joy circulate through my body and my heart opens wide.

These women are all in the Sex Offender Treatment Program (SOTP), an intense 18 month cognitive therapy program. They live together in a special dorm in which community is emphasized. Each of these 28 women has committed a crime which will brand them for life as sex offenders.

Most people have a hard time wrapping their minds around the concept of female sex offenders. I certainly did. A Google search brought me to a research paper entitled Female Sex Offenders: Severe Victims and Victimizers. It was hard to read about women sexually molesting children, even harder to grasp that some of the women of SOTP had committed similar crimes. Women don’t do such things, men do, right? Wrong. Both genders are capable of unspeakable and horrifying crimes.

I do not know the specifics of these women’s crimes. I could find out via the TDCJ web site but I’ve made a conscious choice to remain in the dark. I meet them, woman to woman, outside ideas of right and wrong. I, or the artist I bring, share tools of discovery and encourage the creativity of these deeply wounded women, who themselves are victims of sex abuse, to take root and blossom. I passionately believe in the power of creativity to heal and re-define oneself. Walt Whitman wrote, “I am Large, I contain Multitudes”. I want these women to know in their bones that they are more than just sex offenders; they are more than their crimes. They are writers, poets, dancers, singers, actresses and visual artists with gifts to share.

When I learned that the Hilltop unit had a SOTP program, I was deeply drawn to teach there. I do not know why but I have learned to follow my soul urges. It’s been almost four years that I’ve been going up there once a month – it is work that deeply feeds my soul.

Today I’m teaching a movement and writing class I call “Elements”. Chairs are moved out of the way and we circle up for warm-up exercises. The sound of African drumming fills the room breaking down barriers and inhibitions like a magic wand. Hips sway, shoulders shimmy, toes tap and heads bob. We boogie and rock out. Movement is generated from the core – pelvis and torso. In the Soul Train section, I encourage the women to get down and shake it out. Shake out anger, despair, loneliness, frustration and resentment. It is deeply satisfying!

My first writing prompt is five minutes of free-flow writing on “I am Earth” Then I ask the women to create an earth gesture – a movement that symbolizes groundedness, stability, nature, etc. Each woman shares her gesture and the rest of us repeat it. I play just the right earthy music (usually another cut of African drumming) and we go around the circle dancing each women’s gesture. We’ve just choreographed our first dance! 

We repeat that process with three more writing and movement prompts: “I am Air”, “I am Fire” and “I am Water”. By the end of the class we’ve created four dances and the women have four pieces of creative writing they can be proud of.

The chapel is filled with the divine energy of creativity and community. One woman comments “I didn’t know I was creative!” Another says, “This is the deepest sense of community this dorm has ever had.” One that touches my heart so deeply is “In the twenty years I’ve been locked up, this is the most fun I’ve ever had.”

I am filled with awe at their willingness to step outside their comfort zones. I LOVE this work – my soul is filled with joy and gratitude.

 

 

 

 

Seeking input on building a national prison arts association

5 Jan

Dear friends of The Prison Arts Coalition:

Building upon a new level of cultural awareness regarding the benefits of arts in corrections programs, we would like to know if an expanded national organization would be a valuable asset to you and the work you do.

In these early stages, we feel the association could offer the following to its members:

  • Raise awareness of programmatic efficacy
  • Host national or regional conferences
  • Share best practices
  • Foster community
  • Support, collect and disseminate relevant research
  • Offer professional development opportunities
  • What else can you imagine?

The following 5-minute survey is designed to help better understand the need for a national prison arts association and how it can best serve potential members like you.  Your input is incredibly valuable during this early stage.

National Prison Arts Survey

We are hoping to collect all responses by January 29th.

Thank you for your time!

This survey has been developed with input by an ad hoc steering committee of prison arts advocates and practitioners, including:

Cynthia Gutierrez – Barrios Unidos Prison Project

Ella Turenne – Artist, Activist, EducatorOccidental College

Freddy Gutierrez – Community Worker, Performing Artist

Illya Kowalchuk – Pop Culture Classroom

Jonathan Blanco – Oregon State Penitentiary Hobby Shop

Laurie Brooks – William James Association

Lesley Currier – Marin Shakespeare Company

Nate Henry-Silva – Imagine Bus Project

Nathalie Costa Thill – Adirondack Center for Writing

Treacy Ziegler – An Open Window

Victoria Sammartino – Voices UnBroken

Wendy Jason – Prison Arts Coalition

Alma Robinson – California Lawyers for the Arts

Weston Dombroski – California Lawyers for the Arts