Saturday, July 22, 2006

You’ll Need Sunglasses

I’ve been working so much in black and white lately it’s a relief to splash around with some color. Kind of over the top for me though. I don’t normally go for orange, but I couldn’t resist it. And I do like lace. This piece was snagged from Carmi’s clear out pile when she moved her studio.
After I finished these two pages, I read a story in the New York Times about Donny Johnson, a prisoner in California who uses the dye from M and M’s to paint with. (Skittles work too, but he likes to eat them). Apparently Donny’s been in solitary confinement for 17 years, and isn’t allowed art supplies – hence his M and M palette of colors which he sometimes mixes with coffee or Kool-Aid for more range. His brush is made from tin foil and strands of his own hair, and he paints on blank postcards.
This just goes to show you that the art urge can’t be held down despite the sordidness of one’s past or one’s circumstances. Still, you can’t work up much sympathy for Donny otherwise, since he’s in jail for murder and slashing a prison guard’s throat.
Much sadder in my opinion was the situation of someone like Katharina Detzel. Katharina was put in a mental institution in 1907 after supposedly sabotaging a railway line as a political protest. Before the Nazis murdered her in 1941, she wrote a play, tried to establish a home for babies, protested against the way the inmates were treated, and created miniature figures out of bread dough she probably chewed herself. Katharina also made a life-sized male doll out of the mattress ticking and straw from her bed, which she’d pummel when she was angry.

Mental institutions used to be a convenient place to put women who wouldn’t tow the line, so you can’t help wondering whether or not Katharina was really deranged – or what she would have become if she hadn’t been committed.

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