The collection of drawings that comprise “Letters From Desolation Row” were all created in what might be considered a strange place for a studio: my prison cell in Pennsylvania’s Sci-Dallas. The same cell that serves as my studio was also the setting for a mere miraculous intervention in the form of a radio interview given by artist, Johnny Romeo. It was September of 2015 as I lay in my bunk, weighed down by the gravity of facing a lengthy sentence, when I heard on public radio a message that spoke directly to me. It was so moving that I couldn’t lie there for another minute. I had to get up and draw. Johnny’s message saved me from a darkness I couldn’t shake, and it also jolted me from the paralysis of non-productivity.
All the pieces in “Letters From Desolation Row” were arrived at in roughly the same way. My process begins with being terrified of a blank paper until I conjure enough mettle to make an initial intuitive stroke with my pen, then another stroke, and another. It is not until after initially getting the drawing off ground that I take a step back and make conscious design decisions. The first step is almost always to figure out what the drawing wants to become, then kind of helping it along.
Small strange animals and insects are all over the place in my drawings. The most prolific cast member, the MVP, is a striped pupa that I have dubbed “botfly”. This element kept showing up in my drawings and one day I stood back to try and understand why I liked it so much. My analysis revealed some parallels to my own life: The black and white stripes that commonly indicate a prisoner, the transitional life stage, the vulnerability, and the way they look like they want to just go bouncing down the hallway.
This series of drawings was only possible because of Johnny’s persistence in his own development, which has served me about as much as it has served him. If I had not heard him give that interview in 2015 there would be no drawings, no botflies, no redemption through art, no light in the tunnel. But I did hear it. And because of it I have been reborn into a newly focused obsessive.
This is how I have found a way to be free. When I draw, when I paint, I am truly myself. I cling to it as if it is my life raft to redemption, as if I might be able to right the wrongs I am responsible for. When I draw I feel like I am tapping into a universal mind from which I borrow these archetypal elements and stick them into my drawings. It is my meditation practice and my communion with all that is life.
I never really had any faith in ever being anything more than an amateur artist until I heard Johnny’s interview last year on WVIA. Since then I have kind of been reborn into an obsessive nut that rarely thinks about anything other than drawing and painting.