One of my earliest memories is of a day spent wandering the grounds of the Ringling Art Mansion in Sarasota, Florida. Observing the gilt-framed paintings and the lush sculpture garden, I fell in love with the infinite possibilities one could create through art. Many years later, as I sat in Federal Prison for a crime I did not commit, these memories were the only things that gave me the strength to carry on. Now, I am a free man again and painting is the one true passion I have left. Much like a shark who can never stop swimming, if I stop painting, I will die.
While I always knew I wanted to be an artist, my desire lay dormant for the early years of my life. After graduating high school, I embarked on a quest as a Coast Guard Helicopter Rescue Swimmer, a career that occupied me for over two decades. Upon my retirement, I wandered into the Seattle Institute of Art one day for no particular reason. The lobby was filled with such evocative pieces that my childhood passions immediately began to blossom inside of me.
That same day, I enrolled in the Institute's photography course. My professor asked me what type of photography I was most interested in. Without pause, I responded, "Anything but wedding photography!" Naturally, within a few months, I had become a professional wedding photographer.
As it turns out, I ended up liking wedding photography. The grand celebrations, celebrators decked out in their Sunday bests, all in a high state of stress. I began to think maybe this could be the career I needed to give me a fulfilling life. Little did I know however, my life was about to swing out of whack like a warping piece of clay on a potter's wheel. My younger brother, a licensed realtor, took illegal liberties with our house rental business account, forging hundreds of signatures of family, friends, and clients. Trusting him was a blind spot of tragic eras and my life would never be the same.
I was indicted, along with eighteen other victims, including my brother's best friend who committed suicide to avoid the possibility of prison. The government touted that as his brother "I must have known" even while I was serving on active military duty in a completely different state. Despite the contrary evidence, innocent codefendants pled guilty in exchange for a lesser sentences. I, however, could not admit to a crime I did not Commit. Despite having only, a 4% chance of winning, I stood up for my rights as an innocent man and plead not guilty. As punishment, I was sentenced to ten years in prison.
Lava flowed through my veins. Anger engulfed me. I was a pressure vessel ready to blow. My only outlet was the prison's art room, a tight cramped space that felt like a WWII submarine. I began painting simple colors and shapes that landed in violent and uncontrollable chaos. As time went on, however, I began to harness the indignation of the situation and began devouring art books like a wood chipper, aping stroke-for-stroke the paintings of the old masters. As my confidence increased, I began to control my rage. Alone in the art room, with my captors providing all my basic needs, I was able to mentally escape confinement. I found freedom through creative expression. With a glut of time to paint, paint I did, from sunrise to sunset.
Struggling with limited supplies, I used sticks, burned out brushes, and paper and cardboard I found in the trash. I adapted. Sometimes paint orders took months to come in, so I experimented with using the colorful shells of commissary M&Ms. I used cooking oil for improved paint flow and floor wax as a glaze.
In the end, I was able to create images that were unimaginable to the painters on the other side of the fence. Nothing was out of bounds. I imagined an unlimited color palette, testing swatches in my head to keep from wasting precious paint. Every March, I challenged myself to produce thirty paintings in thirty days. My ability to create on the fly went supersonic. A porthole into my subconscious opened in a way I could have never imagined before my incarceration. Such lucidity is difficult to explain to someone who has never been robbed of their freedom.
My creativity continued to expand in unexpected ways. My mind flooded with swirling words and they began to dance with colorful shapes. Sensing its organic nature, I enrolled in correspondence studies for creative writing and poetry. In my dorm, by a dimming booklight, I hand wrote stories, recording many of my heroic military experiences, and handcrafting a fiction novel. I sharpened my new skills like a cherished HB drawing pencil.
Prison gave me a clarity most artists will never realize. However, one question remains. Did I teach myself to paint? Or did a vehement lance of anger unleash an artistic juggernaut? Whatever the answer, prison was just one layer of my life. It is now time to cover it with a fresh coat of paint.
Now I am a felon, and I have no choice but to own it. Freedom has become my new fuel, displacing the anger that once coursed through my veins. My paintings have become cheerful original creations, not pale imitations. My emotional connection with each piece has an eternal resonance. Simply put, I describe my art as "ekpyrotic, born in fire."
Art world: Stand by for heavy rolls and turbulent seas.