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… you should check out a fine exhibition of prison art.

As some of you may know, I teach an art studio class once a week at a nearby prison. Last year, I asked a local gallery if they’d be interested in partnering for a show. The time has come. Here’s the skinny:


Fundraiser for University Beyond Bars
Opening Reception: Thursday, April 28, 5-9pm.
Vermillion Gallery, 1508, 11th Ave (between Pine & Pike), Seattle
Featuring Artists from Monroe Prison with Special works by Buddy Bunting and Paul Rucker. (show runs through May 14.) Special Video Presentation of When You Learn, You Don’t Return, by Gilda Sheppard at 7:30pm.

Non-Sufficient Funds brings together the work of twelve prison-artists from the University Beyond Bars program at Washington State Reformatory, Monroe, WA, with works by established artists Buddy Bunting and Paul Rucker.

This exhibition of more than 50 acrylic paintings, graphite drawings and one video installation address abstract, figurative, allegorical and spiritual concerns. Non-Sufficient Funds is the culmination of over a year’s worth of weekly studio sessions within the prison and the brainchild of Pete Brook, a dedicated volunteer and board member of the University Beyond Bars.

In addition to the artwork by the inmates at Monroe, Paul Rucker will be showing his video, ‘Proliferation’, which documents the growth of the US Prison system over the past 200 years in an animated mapping of the US Prison system set to original music. Also, Buddy Bunting is presenting a 13 foot color painting of the stark facade of a prison at ground level.

The title of the show, Non-Sufficient Funds, has a few meanings: First, it refers to the stretched resources of volunteer-based rehabilitation programs within prisons across America, which is what this particular exhibit is advocating for. Research indicates that inmates who maintain contact with the outside world and who engage in educational and vocational programs experience a much lower rate of recidivism.

Second, it is a commentary on the financial burden the Prison-industrial Complex places on US society. Due to harsher sentencing laws and the war on drugs, the prison population has quadrupled since 1980. Now, in times of economic crisis, serious questions are being asked about the amount of tax dollars spent on prisons.

Finally, it refers to the scenario when a prisoner receives a letter or package has insufficient postage, and no funds available in their prison account fund to cover the difference. “Non-sufficient funds” is stamped upon the return correspondence. Many of us are unaware firsthand of the rigid structure the penal system requires. Mail sent to inmates in violation of policies can lead to punishment. Prison libraries and other media are also highly censored for various reasons. Non-sufficient funds hopes to shed some light on the way art and education in institutions benefits society as a whole and we hope it encourages a dialogue and additional advocacy.

In the local press

Keegan Hamilton of Seattle Weekly penned Insider Art and also ran a photo gallery with the article.

California State Prison, Corcoran. 2006, ink and pencil on paper, 52 x 156 inches.

California State Prison, Corcoran. 2006, ink and pencil on paper, 52 x 156 inches.

Not a photographer, but an illustrator.

Within Buddy Bunting‘s Panorama series are five West Coast prison facilities. Prisons pop up in other series such as High Living too.

Bunting, like Sandow Birk and Alex Donis before him uses canny illustration to rifle home the banality of (secure) structures and signs in the mundane US hinterlands. Bunting’s grayscale world is one of malls, excavated hillsides, prisons and abandonment.

These subjects are old and familiar to American artists; artists who have attempted to reconcile their art with the psychology of deserts, gas stations and limitless geographies.

Bunting’s work is brooding, but most disturbingly it stakes out an invisible truth – that being, that post-industrial activities in dislocated rural areas are of sinister and charged ideological purpose.

The celebrated colour photography of Shore, Sternfeld and Eggleston is laconic, seductive and – admittedly – sometimes jarring, but never is it so critical or detached as Bunting’s work. Regarding detachment and the artist’s distance, the claim here that sketching has pushed out the great photographers may seem ludicrous and yet that is how I read Bunting’s very intelligent work.


Jen Graves, the art critic for Seattle’s The Stranger (the best free newspaper in America) wrote this article and conducted this audio interview. Well worth your time!

Oregon Gatehouse (its yellow mimicked the shade of rock looming behind as a train went through)  2008, ink and pencil on paper, 30 x 52 in

Oregon Gatehouse (its yellow mimicked the shade of rock looming behind as a train went through). 2008, ink and pencil on paper, 30 x 52 inches.

Walmart Distribution Center. 2008, ink and pencil on paper, 20 x 26 inches.


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