Patti Wenzel

Art is like freedom

By - Apr 10th, 2010 04:00 am
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Photos of art and gallery opening by Patti Wenzel

Artist R.S. Johnson’s painting has the look of Norman Rockwell, but it asks a more difficult question

Inmates. Ex-offenders. Criminals. Art.

These days, those words don’t often go together. Criminals and inmates are considered society’s refuse, while art is … well, art.
But what is art?  Art uplifts, it gives a voice to those who aren’t comfortable speaking up. Art tells stories. Who better to use and need art then criminals, inmates and ex-offenders?

Mary Klotz and Francis Dombrowski teach art to inmates at the Milwaukee County Correctional South Facility (commonly known as the House of Corrections). But teaching and helping inmates create needs an audience, and that was the impetus for “Art of the State,” a show which runs through April 30 at Gallery 2622 in Wauwatosa.

The pieces, mainly pastels, pencils and oils, represent the voice of men who have been incarcerated over the last 20 years. In addition to Klotz and Dombrowski, the nuns at St. Benedict the Moor Catholic Church also worked with the men to nourish their artistic talents.

Some of the art is elementary with awkward proportions, while other pieces have a maturity of a seasoned professional. All of them tell a story of beauty, of  justice, of faith, of abuse, of frivolity. The artists leave themselves on the canvases and in the words describing their experience.

“Growing up I never knew art could take me places I never expected. Art to me is like freedom,” wrote Antrell Smith.

Andres J. Alba, who is currently serving time at HOC, had the honor of his self-portrait being used for the show’s promotional materials. It shows him with multi-colored hair, surrounded by jail bars. His other works  were colorful and whimsical, somewhere beyond the place he now lives, somewhere his words show he wants to be.

“To me, art is a way to express my feelings, thoughts, for that moment of work. And just maybe [to] share happiness, my hope and my pain with others. To do what I love, to reach others, even from behind these walls, be it cement or wire, or in our minds. To me everything we do is art, when we express ourselves.”

The show, sponsored by the Siebert Lutheran Foundation, will benefit six church sponsored locations of the Ex-Offender Program of the Metro Milwaukee Lutheran Mission Society. The MMLMS New Life Supportive Care Network and Basic Backpack Program equip ex-offenders throughout southeastern Wisconsin with the physical tools, emotional support, and spiritual grounding necessary to become productive members of society.

Gallery 2622 is located at 2622 N. Wauwatosa Avenue. Owner and photographer John Korom opened the gallery in 2008. He wants his gallery to bring art to the heart of the neighborhood and to highlight local artists. Gallery 2622 features a new artist each month and a First Friday gallery opening as well.

Categories: Art

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