Telling Stories through Chicano Art. The Vibrant Collages of Life - by a prisoner on San Quentin's death row
"Warning" - by Luis Maciel
"Warning" - by Luis Maciel
"One thing I learned in prison is that you must find a hobby. If not, you're doomed". says Luis Maciel, who was sentenced to death in 1998 and who is incarcerated on San Quentin's death row. "Listen, I love to draw. Art is my thing. I wake up thinking about art, I go to sleep thinking about my new project". Luis Maciel has been drawing for over 30 years. He started expressing himself through his drawings when he was in Youth Authority which is prison for youngsters
Luis creates Chicano Artwork, "artwork created by Americans of Mexican descent, Chicano art came out of the Chicano movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s and the art of struggle" read more here.
Luis has explained that creating his vibrant collages helps him to make sense of his environment. He uses pen and markers, and he can easily spend up to seven hours a day drawing. One drawing can take several weeks such is the detail – and it is all done freehand. “Art for me is an adventure in my personal life. Every drawing that I draw has so many stories to them”. Here are some of the drawings that Luis has created from his cell in San Quentin.
"The World is My Ghetto" - by Luis Maciel
Luis explains the meaning of his artwork "The World is my Ghetto":
"This one I called "The World is my Ghetto". First you must know what a Ghetto is. It is a life of struggles and sadness with a lot of violence. But there is a part of the Ghetto that's good friends and family. We all try to remove the violence from our Ghettos but we succumb to the bad life. In this drawing I'm bringing the good in,and taking out the bad. Let's start with the front. In this life there is a male alpha and he represents everything. The two standing besides him are his protectors. In this case it will be my mother and father. We must always protect the woman from any bad influence. That is the duty of a brother. The two cars - the blue one with "City of Angels" on it, that is my car. We call in slang Los Angeles, "City of Angels". The other car was my friend's car. He had "Califas". Califas is slang for California. I hold this car in high regards since my friend was killed in the Ghetto. The woman on the stair rail represents hell. Since we cannot see any sunshine we are stuck in this life of "Hell". Im speaking since I'm behind bars, this place is hell. The girl on top of her, she has two women. The women represent her ears. The woman on her right is the good, the woman on her left is the bad one. On top of her head, she has a fuse. On top of her you have Minnie Mouse. She wants the girl coming out of the wall which is again Hell. She is hoping that she could touch her nose so that she could bring her to goodness. The face on top is what I call a true woman. She is a fighter and she represents all mothers out there that suffer for their loved ones. The woman that has her hand on her chest - her nails are being impaled in her skin. She bleeds roses since roses are the most beautiful thing in the world. Her nail goes through her skin where she gave life. That's why the man is holding the rose. The guy holding the pencil, that's my hand. I'm bringing in the life of good and bad, plus I'm using the ghetto ink where I'm shown the art. This is why I call my drawing "The World is my Ghetto".
"AZTLAN" - by Luis Maciel
I dedicate this drawing to my family from my culture called "P E T A T L A N" which dates back many generations. Our culture was started by my 27 generation family. We were wanderers that travelled our land until our homestead was built by my true ancestors. We cherish our own beliefs in which I can say Im the 30s generation of this culture. Our homestead comes from our women who give life and who teach our young ones the basic concept of life. We believe every woman must be treated with loyalty and honour. Let this drawing find your own love ones where you can cherish them.
"Fire and Desire" - by Luis Maciel
Luis says of "Fire and Desire" - "This drawing reminds me of that song by Rick James and Tina Marie. I dedicate this drawing to all the beautiful women who find themselves working hard to support their family. Many women work many fields in society and we should be proud of our women. Mothers, sisters, aunties. Whoever you are and whatever your role is, I say you are my Rock and Roll Gangsters. Your true life is always treasured by your true loved ones. To all my Fire and Desire women - I honour you with this drawing".
"LOVED" - by Luis Maciel
Luis says this about "Loved" :-
Life has many obstacles and we are always trying to find that something that wakes our heart. If we do not find it, the reason is that have been moving too fast in life. Then when we do eventually find it, we do not know how to keep hold of it. Then we start finding other things that we believe is LOVE. So then we go through so many obstacles, that when we finally figure out that what we had was true love, we kick ourselves in the ass! Love can be found in almost anything but true love is hard to find. When you find it, get ahold of it, before you turn to "L O V E D".
"Wicked Ways" - by Luis Maciel
"Wicked Ways" - Luis says - "I was reading this magazine and I read this article about mad women. It was about women who cherish their lifestyle by partying and having lots of fun on the streets. So it just popped into my head - "Wicked Ways". Then I thought to myself, I have to draw this idea whilst it is fresh in my mind. That is when I woke up the drawing that was already done in my brain. The word "Quilmas" is slang from back in the 70s,and that is what they used to call San Quentin. Lots of my older homeboys back in my time had that tattoo on their back. They would sit there and tell us stories about San Quentin. Both of the women in the drawing has a name. One is "Demon", and the other is "Vixen"
"The Struggle" - by Luis Maciel
"I love to draw. Sometimes I just go on drawing for hours and hours"
San Quentin death row
Daniel Landry has been on California's death row since 2001, but he has been living behind bars for 31 years. It was during that time he stumbled upon a gift, an artistic talent that he may never have known he possessed had he been a free man. Since that time, Daniel has drawn and painted countless pieces, and some have even survived! He says, "I hate most of them, at least at some point in the process, so I tear up a lot of things." Art has become an outlet for his moods and also one of the few ways, as an imprisoned man, he feels he can leave his mark on the world, or possibly a legacy. "Drawing, painting, doing my art is like a schizophrenic part of me. My mind is always coming up with ideas, things I want to try, and then I forget about 99% of them and just do what feels right at that moment. Sometimes I have to do it, draw, paint, something. I'll look over at something I started and see something I need to do to it or something I need to fix, but I'll try to watch tv or do something else. I try to leave it alone, but then I keep looking back at it and it'll drive me crazy until I do it. And then sometimes I can't stand to even think about it... But it's the thing I always go back to."
Daniel also tries out different styles, reads up and teaches himself new techniques. He says its a challenge to see if he can do landscapes, seascapes, portraits, etc. with pencil, with ink, with acrylic, and so on. He loves to mix mediums and see what happens, good or bad, and finds it is a way to stretch the look, the quality, the capabilities of the mediums he has available to him through San Quentin's hobby program. Its a productive way to focus his energy.
Daniel also enjoys art history and artist's biographies. Though it isn't formal education, he chooses to read about artistic movements and specific artists because they can also inspire him to branch out with his own work. But sometimes inspiration can be as simple as getting lost in an image from a magazine... Alaskan wilderness, underwater coral reef, the starry sky. And during times when emotions like frustration, irritation, or anger strike, creativity can flow just as freely. For example, after hearing about the prices people paid for certain Christopher Wool and Barnett Newman works, among some others, he was dumbfounded, but also driven to express his feelings on canvas. This led to his 3-part body canvas series.
The easiest and most common way prisoners interact with people outside of the stone walls is through writing letters. For someone who considers himself to have a block when it comes to writing, Daniel doesn't have a lot of options for reaching out, so, overall, he uses art to communicate with the outside world. Art is hope, art is an outlet, art is interaction, art is learning, changing, evolving. To Daniel, art is all of these things.
In January 2018, one of Daniel Landry’s artworks will be displayed in a central London art gallery as part of the FaceValue2 art exhibition curated by UK artist Gary Mansfield, who as an ex-convict, has spent time behind bars himself. The exhibition will consist of over 25 collaborative artworks by a variety of artists ranging from prominent to lesser known. The exhibition aims to show the effect that an outside influence can have on one’s identity, ranging from minimal to near devastating.
A few weeks ago, I spoke to Daniel and asked him about his art, what it means to him, and how art can provide a means to find a way out of depression.
When did you start to discover your artistic abilities?
“Purely by accident out of boredom. I’m not even really sure. I had a pen and a piece of paper and I saw a really cool picture in the National Geographic. It was a raven, so it was black and white and I decided to experiment with the ink, dots and lines and circles and then I settled on the circles and started creating just out of nowhere”
How did it make you feel when you saw the finished piece?
“Well even to this day most of the time I can’t stand it when I look at a finished piece, but then it all came together in the end and I thought - maybe I can draw a bit so I pursued it after that.”
Can art help cope with feelings of depression?
“If something is being done with the art, it helps. It helps if it brings something to someone else. It can help when I know it is being used for someone, or doing something good for someone.”
Daniel, you’ve created some wonderful pieces and I love the body canvas series. Tell me about them
"With these, it is is the first time I allowed myself to go outside of the “every line has to be perfect” – It was the first time I let my sense of humour, my emotions and feelings come out. It happened a lot quicker than it would have done normally when I was creating these pieces. The process was easier. I had thought about them for years but never really thought it would be easy, until one day I just basically sat on the canvas and thought that was pretty funny. It kind of works".
Body Canvas Series
"The money paid for some modern art from elite art schools, I just didn’t get it, so being whimsical, I got a washcloth, put a bunch of paint on it, wiped it on my backside and sat on the canvas. I entitled it how it was and how I felt. "Kiss my Ass!". It was a true response to how I felt”.
"For the torso piece, 'Seriously, Let me Out', this is a print of my upper body. I did the chest first, then the face. Everything is the actual body part. Then I put it together – as if Im pressing against a shower window”.
Do you ever teach other inmates?
“I have had people ask me questions and if I know I will tell them, but I still consider myself a beginner and I don’t think I’m that good or that I really deserve to teach people. I think people need to find out for themselves. I discovered it on my own”.
What gives you ideas/inspires you?
"Sometimes it will just be a combination of colours. I see something in my mind’s eye that has to be done. When I meditate, images go through my head and then maybe as much as a year or two later I‘ll try to do something with them. Sometimes I have to do it immediately. Sometimes I throw it away as it doesn’t sit well. Sometimes I have as many as ten to twenty half done pieces of work. So I turn them to face the wall so I don’t have to look at them. I can leave a project for a year. It depends on the mood and everything coming together. I try not to go in with any set idea. Anything could happen at any time..."
What messages are you conveying in your art?
“What I do purposefully is I try not to overthink what im doing. I let it happen and if it has an impact… I want it to have an impact....I hate it here, I hate it – so I want the art to go out and do something. What that is and how that is I don’t know. I don’t think too much on it.
Describe your creative process
I listen to classical music and can get lost in that. You get an image and couple that with your art. I can accidentally stumble on an image and from there, drawing takes on a life on its own. So yes, I paint listening to classical music or something instrumental. I get into it. Combining the two allows me to relax and to let the art go.
You mentioned a piece that you are working on which is related to a suicide attempt
"Yes it's called 'Is this the only way out?'. “The painting is like a bestial face full of terror and rage, holding up cut wrists with blood dripping from them. “All life is leaving him. I made a suicide attempt. I succeeded and my heart stopped and they bought me back which is kind of interesting for lack of a better word. I did take myself out but then here I am and it’s like 'Is this the only possible way out?'. And then you think maybe you have to move on and express it in other ways and instead of actually doing it you can do it in other ways through art. I thought life had to end, that life had to stop; let’s end it and see where it leads, and then you come back and ask yourself ‘well, maybe it’s not the only way out?’
"I have spent time in Alaska. The calm water and reflection – the soft vegetation and beautiful house. The combination of the human touch, as well as nature– I have always liked that peaceful scene"
“How do you feel about being involved in the FaceValue2 London art exhibition?
“I like the idea of it. It’s cool to be involved. I’ve never thought of someone touching my artwork. I have a problem with it myself at times.
Is there anything else you'd like to say about your art, about you, about Daniel?
“I just really want for it to go somewhere and for the art to take me out of here. Be able to do something outside of this place. I want the art to take me away, not the other way around. Im trying not to get too far ahead. I just draw and hopefully it will take me somewhere. Im willing to do whatever it takes and I hope something works. The next body piece I am working on will be realistic. I haven’t exactly figured it out yet, but somehow, I want the body to be donating itself and giving life to something else."
Thank you Daniel, for taking the time to talk to us.
Keep being creative and enjoy where your art takes you.
Artist, Mudlark & passionate about helping prisoners on death row to share their artwork and creative writing