Fears, dreams and dramas, intensity in each piece of the Annual Exhibition

Two long-standing PCAP artists, who were part of the show for more than 15 years from the inside and now have come home, talked to Robby Griswold, from the RC.
by Fernanda Pires

ANN ARBOR—"If you look closely at every single piece, you get to see feelings, you're going to see emotions, you're going to see time, you're going to see fears, dreams and dramas," said artist Martin Vargas during the latest RC Podcast episode, Prison Creative Arts Project from the Artists' Perspective, launched this month. 

Vargas, whose work was featured in the Annual Exhibition of Art by Michigan Prisoners for 23 years and is now one of the show's curators in training, had a great conversation with podcast host Robby Griswold.

Joined by Bryan Picken, who was released this January after being part of the exhibit for 17 years, and Janie Paul, a senior curator and co-founder of the exhibition, they talked about the founding of the show and what making art does for incarcerated people.

"When you are working in this little space and you're creating this world, and it's yours," said Picken. "You're surrounded with intrusions, but this is your world and you get to create what's there. So it's kind of a forced separation from the environment that you're in. It's a way to find serenity that doesn't exist." 

For Paul, the show inspires and can teach the community. "When we see the artists making incredible boats out of toothpicks or Bryan Picken's sculpture made out of cardboard, or a detailed painting, it inspires us with the ingenuity and the inventiveness of people who are resisting their environment by rising to the occasion to be creative," she said.

The team also discussed the process that prisoners experience as PCAP pieces the art show together. Last fall, about 40 University of Michigan volunteers drove 3,800 miles to 26 prisons in Michigan in search of the best works of art created by prisoners.

"There's an intensity in each piece that is saying this matters," said Paul. "There's no sloppiness in the pieces. There's no 'oh well, I'm going to just finish this in an easy way.’ Everything matters a great deal and it's felt palpably and physically in the piece." 

"Every second in time that you spend in art is a second in time that you don't spend in the reality that you're living in prison. So it's very therapeutic as well as artistic and creative," said Vargas. 

To listen to the full podcast, click HERE!

Release Date: 04/08/2020
Tags: Prison Creative Arts Project