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A single wall representing the meals of men and women executed in Texas, part of Julie Green’s The Last Supper: 500 Plates exhibited at Marylhurst University, Oregon (April 16 – May 17, 2013). Photo: Pete Brook.

In The Make — a new(ish) website that celebrates artists in their crafty environments with dedicated studio visits and conversations — has a smashing feature on my friend and fellow Oregonian Julie Green. It sure beats the 2011 write-up of my visit to Julie’s studio!

I’ve been thinking a lot about productivity and it’s obstacles recently and I think Julie maintains an incredible output. Part of that is the security of teaching for her but mostly it is passion and commitment to connections and getting the work seen. What use is studio time if the products are not then widely shared?

Julie’s The Last Supper which is now 552 plates deep, is broad and grasps solidly the size of the issue it takes on. Bravo to Julie for leveraging the agency she has as an artist.

Pop over to In The Make and read what makes Julie tick. Here’s a snippet:

Shipping and installation of fragile ceramics is quite an undertaking. I am looking for a library or a university or a museum- in Texas would be great—to donate the project on a ten-year loan. The Last Supper is not for sale.

I plan to continue adding fifty plates a year until capital punishment is abolished. A poet asked if I ever get tired of painting lumpy blue food. No, I don’t.

Oklahoma has higher per capita executions than Texas. I taught there, and that is how I came to read final meal requests in the morning paper. Requests provide clues on region, race, and economic background.

Why is this important? It is because the death penalty is applied unequally depending on the race of the defendant and the victim, not to mention access to adequate counsel, jury bias, prosecutorial misconduct and a whole plethora of factors that make wrongful convictions too frequent to dismiss. End the death penalty and we’ll end the murder of innocent people. As Bryan Stevenson brilliantly puts it, the question isn’t so much does a person deserve to die, it is do we deserve to kill?


I’ve previously talked about Julie’s work herehere and here.

Coincidentally, I edited a story for Wired about the  work of Klea McKenna who is editor of In The Make. Check out Crumpled and Abused Photo Paper Makes for New Landscape Photography

Nash, Leah - Julie Green

Photo: Leah Nash for The New York Times. Plates in “The Last Supper,” a show that features Julie Green’s plates depicting death-row meals.

A couple of years ago, I visited the studio of artist Julie Green. I was compelled to do so because I was convinced that her The Last Supper project was more relevant and hard-hitting than the many, many photo projects about the last meals of the executed.

Julie Green has painted the last meal requests of over 500 prisoners on individual plates. It’s an overwhelming body of work. The Last Supper is now on show at The Arts Center in Corvalis, Oregon.

Kirk Johnson has written The Last Supper for the New York Times:

The underlying and compelling theme of the work is choice. What do people who may have lived for years in prison with virtually no choices at all do with this last one they’re offered? Do they reach back for some comforting reminder of childhood? (Professor Green suspects as much in the cases of meals like macaroni and cheese or Spam.) Do they grasp for foods never tried, or luxuries remembered or imagined? (One condemned man ordered buffalo steak and sugar-free black walnut ice cream; another, fried sac-a-lait fish topped with crawfish étouffée.)

As Green says she won’t stop painting until the death penalty is abolished, there’s a long way to go with this project. It’s great to see it going from strength to strength and pressing the issue to the fore. Bravo, Julie.


Accompanying the show is a 520-page lunker of a book. The Arts Center received sponsorship assistance to publish a full color catalog of the 500 plates. The catalog will be for sale during the exhibit for an introductory price of $50 (after February 16, 2013 the price will go up). To purchase a catalog, please contact Hester Coucke and let her know a good time to contact you during the business week.


View the full NYT gallery here. And the NYT article, Dish by Dish, Art of Last Meals.

Green’s Interview with Oregon Public Broadcasting’s Geoff Norcross.

© Julia Ziegler-Haynes

There are many photography projects that image the last meals of America’s executed. Here’s the pile. Here’s Julia Ziegler-Haynes’ photographs.

Thanks to David Naugle for the tip.

Following up on my post about Julie Green’s The Last Supper, I think it is necessary to make an overview of the photography and painting projects that consider America’s death penalty by meals of depicting last meals and last meal requests.

Celia A. Shapiro

Shapiro’s recreations of last meals in lurid colour are possibly the best known within this subject matter. She made the series Last Supper in 2001. Of Shapiro’s work, critic Fred Ritchin said it proves the US only executes poor people. Ritchin’s position might be true, but as Julie Green reminded me most inmates, particularly in Southern states are limited to food from the prison kitchen and usually to a budget of $20.  States that rarely employ the death penalty offer a generous $50 or no limit at all.

In all their garishness, Shapiro’s works are reminiscent of Martin Parr’s work. Parr too photographed the food of the poor; fish and chips, cupcakes, bangers and mash and trays of tea. Whatever Parr claims about objectivity there is a snide judgement in his work. Indeed it is his strength that his pictures show us the true absurdity of many of our dietary mores.

Shapiro’s work disgusts me. It disgust me in a good way. It angers me. Each of Shapiro’s images represent a life extinguished … gassed, cooked, fried. It’s hard to stomach. Good art evokes strong response.

John William Rook, age 27, executed by North Carolina, 9/19/86. © Celia A. Shapiro

James Reynolds

James ReynoldsLast Suppers was well received in 2009 but the interest in his birds-eye view still-lives seemed short-lived. I suspect they were appreciated more for their unorthodox view of a infrequently seen subject and for their role as conversation starter, than they were as lasting pieces of art.

The visual discipline of the institutional orange trays of containing in most cases a bizarre allocations of food, fairly reflects the irrationality of a state killing a citizen.

There is something maddening and suffocating about Reynolds’ ordered still-lifes. The demarcated space of the foodstuffs reminds me of aeroplane meals. For the executed it all comes down to a tightly presented meal, and this is meal is absurd.

© James Reynolds

Jonathon Kambouris

Jonathon Kambouris‘ efforts with The Last Meals Project is roughly contemporary with Reynolds (completed over 2009/2010). Judging by the shadows to the chicken legs, cups of coffee, Kambouris places food items ontop of a blown-up mugshot of a (infamous) inmate mugshot and makes the photograph from directly above, looking down.

Kambouris is tying his desire for a debate about the death penalty to the most renowned and media-coveted men and women. I am not convinced this is a good tactic as (whipped up) emotions about serial killers is not the place to begin a rational discussion on the symbolic foolishness of the death penalty. I think a better place to start a progressive debate – at least within the framework of art – would be Taryn Simon’s The Innocents or the painter Dan Bolick’s Resurrected. The existence of innocence on America’s death rows is a powerful argument working in favour of death penalty abolition.

One footnote to add is my astonishment at Kambouris’ statement at Feature Shoot: “In 2010 this photo essay traveled to Singapore to be shown in the Singapore Fringe Festival: Art and the Law. Ironically, Singapore has an extremely strict death penalty stance and I was informed that it is part of school curriculum to watch an execution take place.” Kids spectating murder? Can that be true?

Name: Ted Bundy; Last meal: Steak, eggs, hash browns, coffee; Sentence: Death by electric chair; Executed: January 24, 1989, 7:16am; State: Florida. © Jonathon Kambouris

Mat Collishaw

Mat Collishaw goes all Flemish Master on his last meals. Except it isn’t the girl with the pearl earring chomping down on that lettuce it was Karla Faye Tucker a few hours before she was lethally injected by the State of Texas in 1988. Flemish still lives were part allegories of life, death and cycles of nature but frequently used items of trade as story telling devices. Knowledgable viewers would identify flowers or precious metals from across the globe brought by the Dutch merchants that dominated sea-trade in the 16th and 17th centuries.

In the age of supermarkets and year round strawberries, the global food trade and who runs is of little significance. The inference in Collisaw’s work is that America trades in sublime murder.

Found via Art Most Fierce.

Karla Faye Tucker (2010). C-Print, 73 x 60 com (29 x 24 inches) © Mat Collishaw

Jacquelyn C. Black

Black’s … last meal … (Courage Press, 2003) is a curious little publication. It is clearly an act of conscience. The studio photography is very literal without the interpretation we see in other artists’ works. I cannot be sure Black’s prints have ever gone on exhibition. Black pairs images of last meals with text of last statements.

When one is looking at photography in order to draw critical conclusion, it is often the absence if photography (or more precisely, the presence of something unexpected) that can provide the Eureka! moment. I am somewhat desensitised to the issue of state violence; I suspect the emotive response Black and her peers expect of the viewer, I do not deliver. It was therefore, an absent image and text in its place that caught my attention and really drove home the spiteful retribution of execution:



… last meal … includes valuable auxiliary material – on the history of capital punishments; on statements made in landmark legislation; and on US death penalty statistics. Black also lists political resources for anti-death penalty activism.

Name: Anthony Ray Westley
Executed:May 13, 1997
Education: 8 years
Occupation: Laborer
© Jacquelyn C. Black

Barbara Caveng & Ralf Grömminger

Glowing like fast food menu boards but with the deliberateness of illustrations in a noodle bar, Grömminger’s photographs mounted in lightboxes for Caveng’s Final Meals installation are a bit pop. Any illusion of vitality is deflated by the procedural details of the eater’s execution.

Detail from ‘Final Meals’, installation by Barbara Caveng, 2000. Backlit boxes: Steelcases (40 x 40 x 18cm) with a pane on one side to pull, showing the execution protocol. Two audiostations with final statements. Meals photographed by Ralf Grömminger

Kate MacDonald

“The leftover table scraps relate the humanity of the condemned to our own ordinary experience,” says Kate MacDonald of her painted Last Meals series. That’s a bit poetic for me. More powerful is the fact these plates are empty. The remnants of sauce and chicken bone are primordial and bloody. Just as these items were devoured, so too will be the body that consumed them. Despite the polystyrene cup and plastic cutlery there is something very animalistic about MacDonald’s oil paintings.

Last Meals featured in the Texas Moratorium Network’s exhibit Justice For All? Artists Reflect on the Death Penalty, in which MacDonald and peers considered the injustices embedded within the death penalty; “Mental health and lack of advocacy, racial discrimination, poverty, and at the issue’s most basic argument, the possible innocence of the executed.”

The last meal of Ruben Cantu, believed to be wrongfully convicted and executed in Texas. (24 x 20 inches), oil on canvas. © Kate MacDonald

As of May 2009, there had been 1165 U.S. state-sanctioned executions since 1976.

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UPDATE: August 19th 2012

Two more projects.

Helen Grace Ventura Thompson

Ventura Thompson’s website. Her work in The Guardian. My thoughts.

© Helen Grace Ventura Thompson


Julia Ziegler-Haynes

Ziegler-Haynes’ website. Her work.

© Julia Ziegler-Haynes

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UPDATE: December 14th, 2012

Henry Hargreaves

Hargreaves‘ No Seconds is a series of 10 stark photographs that re-create last meals alongside the name, age and conviction of the murdered individual. See more of his work on Raw File,


© Henry Hargreaves

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UPDATE: January 29th, 2013

Patrick Guns

For My Last Meals, 2007-2009, Guns asked 54 chefs to interpret 54 last meals.

“From this list of last meals, I asked renowned chefs to choose a meal according to their affinity for cooking and to recreate these last wills without any fear of asserting their own Humanism. As a tribute to a deceased man, their creations are more concerned about Man than about the Cook,” writes Guns.


© Patrick Guns

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If you have any other projects that need adding to the list, please get in touch.

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