Pillowcases as canvases and melted candy as paint are the tools not of choice, but of necessity for several talented artists whose work will be on display at the ArtExchange in Long Beach.
And it was that out-of-the-box thinking that drew the CEO of ArtExchange, Nicolassa Galvez, to many of the pieces in the gallery's upcoming show.
“We often talk about the cost of canvas and paint but they can't even purchase canvas, they're cutting up their sheets, they're using their pillowcases, they melt M&M's to add more color to their pencil art,” she said of the artists featured in “Art of the Incarcerated: Faith and Hope Beyond Prison Walls.” The show includes more than 200 pieces by people who have been or currently are in prison.
The exhibition opens Saturday during the East Village Arts District's monthly 2nd Saturday Art Walk. The artists' pencil and pen drawings, wood carvings and oil paintings also will be for sale.
The exhibition is in collaboration with Families of the Incarcerated, a nonprofit program by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Proceeds from sales will fund archdiocese programs that help children of inmates visit their incarcerated parents and re-entry support programs.
While in the maximum-security prison, Dooley spent some of his time creating an ink drawing on a warn piece of cloth cut from his pillowcase. The piece shows the weathered face of a man with a white beard and clenched lips, with depth and shading creating a realistic looking self-portrait.
“They can use time any way they want and he is using his in a productive way,” Molina said. She would not disclose the crime that got Dooley a life sentence.
A more colorful entry, albeit with a dark theme, is Michael Camarina's colored pencil on paper drawing, “Dance with Death.”
The piece is a realistic drawing of a young, barely dressed woman surrounded by swirls of colorful shapes. Below her is a skull with closed humanlike eyes.
“Look at the detail. It's amazing all of the detail he was able to create,” Molina said as she looked at the piece on a recent weekday morning as gallery officials were setting up the exhibit.
Other pieces are more hopeful, including a pair of religious themed pencil on paper drawings that feature an image of Pope Francis and a man praying by Francisco Colon.
Colon, 53, was convicted of what he called a “187” — the California Penal Code section that defines the crime of murder — after he shot a man during a San Diego bar fight in 1988. He was given a life sentence but was released on parole seven months ago and is now in school studying graphic design.
Colon learned to draw in prison and art helped him deal with his time behind bars. He now hopes it will help him contribute to society.
“There is no stigmatizing in art. Art is free, there are no limits to it, no boundaries and I think it makes people see the human side of people that are incarcerated,” he said.
The exhibition also includes several related events. At an Incarcerated Artists Panel on April 12, former prisoners, art instructors from the California Department of Corrections and representatives of the archdiocese's Office of Restorative Justice will talk about the impact of art in prison.
On April 26 will be a screening of “Our Lost Sons,” a documentary about two mothers whose teenage sons have been convicted of murder. The director, Alexa Oona, will be on hand for a Q&A. On May 12, the gallery will host a Restorative Justice Panel that will include victims of crime, offenders and their families talking about the impact of their crimes.
ArtExchange's Galvez realizes there will be some who may criticize the show for featuring art by convicted criminals, but she said they still deserve a chance to be seen in a different light.
“I think everyone is a human being first, regardless of what they've done,” she said.
Art of the Incarcerated: Faith and Hope Beyond Prison Walls
When: Saturday through May 29.
Where: The ArtExchange, 354 E. Third St., Long Beach.
Information: 562-491-0278, www.artexchangelb.org.