Monday, November 19, 2007
Witnessing Prison Art, 2005
I’m Janie Paul, and I’m a painter. And I’m also a curator and I guess a person who works with a lot of different people making art. So all of my life I have really enjoyed making my own art, by myself in my room, before I was grown up, or in my studio now, just sort of really liking that freedom of the imagination. I like to use very simple materials. I like to draw on wood. I like to draw outside. I love nature, and for a long time I painted from nature. And my work, though not traditional landscapes, it’s still based in landscape. But I’ve also all my life, loved working with people who don’t have access to art normally, and helping them have artistic experiences. So currently I work through the prison creative arts project, I work with prisons inside, adults and youths, and the main thing I do is curate this big art show in the spring of every year, where we collect work from about 42 prisons throughout Michigan. And it’s a big show, it’s a wonderful show, I’ve always been really inspired by that work. I also have a project called Detroit Connections where my students at the U of M work with students at Greenfield Union Elementary School, and I’m also very inspired by the children’s work. So these have been kind of two separate realms in my life for most of my life, my work in my studio and this work with people.
Why do I make this work? The reason why I make the work that I make in my studio is probably because I have to do it to remain sane and human. In other words, when I was a child, I had stacks of coloring books, and stacks of crayons and paper, I was just always a kid who was drawing, and it was a way that I took care of myself in a situation that wasn’t always the most conducive for me. So I grew up with this need to express my perceptions and that’s just continued through my life. But when I became more sophisticated as an artist, it then kind of transformed into understanding something about why, it moved a little bit more away from that personal need to, it’s important and significant because there’s a compelling need to express, to frame the way we see the world in a way that I believe in that can be translated into visual terms. So it’s not just that I like to make art, it’s that I do believe that the images that I make reflect something that’s human, that’s humane, and that I can communicate to people. So that’s about my own studio work. In terms of the work that I do with prisoners, that’s because I see that we’re in a giant crisis, this is a human rights issue that we have in our country, and that artists have a very powerful means to work on this issue, which is to be bringing the art out of these really difficult and horrendous places where people are locked up and enduring horrible conditions and to bring that out into the public. And it’s a two-way thing: it’s a wonderful thing for the artists to have their humanity recognized and it’s a wonderful thing for the community and the people who come to see shows. It’s a way for people to reconsider and reframe how they think about people in prison. And with the children, I’ve always loved children, I have a degree in art education, I love working with children. Like my studio work, it’s not just that I like it, but that it’s a belief that I have that we have too many children that are just, like the prisoners, enduring really difficult situations in poverty and difficult homes and schools. And that they’re not getting enough access to art, and art is really something that is, it’s freedom.