By Tommy Winfrey
For most incarcerated individuals, prison is a difficult place to leave. But for a group of 20 men on San Quentin’s Death Row, a part of them made it over the walls of the prison and all the way to an art gallery in London.
Between Friday, June 24, and Wednesday, July 6, the Made in Greenwich Gallery exhibited poetry and artwork from these men. The show entitled “Art Reach” was the idea of London artist Nicola White, who has a pen pal housed in San Quentin.
“My pen-friend sent me some wonderful homemade cards made by his fellow inmates. During our visit in April 2015, I asked him about them and the subject of an art exhibition came up. When I asked him whether any of the prisoners would be interested in participating in an exhibition, the answer was a resounding ‘yes,’” said White.
San Quentin houses the world’s most populated Condemned Row, with 696 men. When White’s friend put the word out about the show, she said, “I began to receive some artwork, and I was stunned at the beautiful work that was dropping through my letterbox. The talent of these men incarcerated on Death Row—a place you would not generally associate with creativity—was astounding.”
When asked why she put on the show, White responded, “As an artist myself, I know how important it is to be able to share one’s work with others and to receive feedback and validation. It gives us a healthier sense of self, is good for self-esteem and can give us something to feel proud of. It is a positive thing all around and one of the main aims of the exhibition is to highlight the importance of art and creativity to those experiencing difficult circumstances.”