Before COVID-19 hit the world last March, our curators saw almost 2,500 pieces of art created by some 660 incarcerated artists. About 800 of these pieces were featured in the show, which recognizes a diversity of both artists and artistic choices and portrays a broad array of artistic media and subject matter.
Caleb Foerg is a musician and abstract painter. After designing and painting over 20 murals around Detroit, Highland Park, and Ann Arbor, Foerg started to use his time to develop a small canvas process. He is a U-M alum and a curator-in-training and believes he has never "come across anywhere that exemplifies the creative spirit better than on PCAP's trips inside.”
"I've learned so much from the few years I've spoken to so many incarcerated artists. It's truly inspiring to see such a variety of beautiful works arising from prison," he said. "I look forward to seeing all of them and what everyone has come up with in these strange times sometime soon."
How did you get involved with PCAP?
Foerg: I've been working with PCAP for the last three years. Through one of my professors, I met Graham Hamilton (PCAP's Arts Programming Coordinator) at the Residential College Art Gallery. He mentioned the program and a couple of months later, I was at the studio, helping him pack art and rearranging the whole place.
I soon went on my first prison visit, then to five other trips in a row. I was just blown away by the amount of honesty and inspiration that we could get from these conversations with the incarcerated artists. Gradually I've been doing more and more and now finally I'm almost a curator.
What is the best/and most challenging part of serving as a PCAP curator?
Foerg: I think the best part of being a PCAP curator is just plunging myself into this new community, not just the people inside (prisons), but the people outside too. I really haven't found a cooler group of people! I just found so many people that were similar to me, people willing to talk about topics that matter to me like criminal justice, art, and their intersection.
The most difficult part is probably after our prison visits. At the end of the day, you get to leave with everybody's art and nobody's with us. It is a little bit difficult emotionally sometimes, but I think it's totally worth it, because of the amount of art that we get, the kinds of conversations we have. You can't have them anywhere else.
What is your personal curatorial intention?
Foerg: One of the most important to me is quality. It's always quality because I'm an artist and I spend every day, all day, making sure that my work looks quality. But beyond that, I look at the artist's personal side. When I see a piece of art that has poetic imagery and idiosyncratic photos from something that only the incarcerated artist can understand; you are putting your deepest darkest things on the canvas for everybody out in the world to see, that's brilliant and that's also got to be really scary.
Could you share with us a special moment that happened during your work with PCAP?
Foerg: I have a really good connection with the guys in the Macomb County Correctional Facility because they're so lively, so happy. The first time I went there, I saw this guy with a keyboard in the corner, he had speakers and a microphone. We started talking and we figured out that both of us liked freestyle rapping.
In the next moment, we were getting a beat and then we started rapping together. Lots of people joined us. I never thought I'd be sitting there like a sniper, making music with them. They remember me because of it. The following year, we did that again and I am looking forward to spending time with them again in the near future. To me, one of the best ways I know how to communicate with somebody is to "spit back and forth." Those were such beautiful moments!
Please, tell us about your artwork. What are you working on nowadays?
Foerg: I've been spending a lot of time doing commissions recently. I've got about eight or nine canvases that I'm working on right now for friends and family. I've been using my time to paint and figure out how to make money off of online sales. I'm really just trying my best to get myself out there as a visual artist. Abstract art is my favorite, so I spend my time mixing colors and drafting sketches. I like to work on several pieces at once because it keeps me occupied.