“I am a person who wants to bring happiness to all, by placing a smile on people’s face, a shimmering of hope,” said Shelley Small, a new San Quentin arrival. The artist considers himself a person with multiple talents, who is a caring and giving person.
One of his goals is to bring out the hidden talents that others’ might have. Showing his talent is another form of teaching others: they, too, can be creative in a restrained environment such as prison.
Small shared that the majority of his art comes from pain. Due to his upbringing, as a child he was not able to express himself, so he created art at an early age. “I sketch a lot, I took out all my frustration on drawings,” he said.
The artist has many talents. He is a caring friend and a help to others. His art promotes peace during quarantine conditions.
Small’s style varies and he never titles his art. When asked about his three favorites, he replied, “I feel that we have not been accepted in society. I spent all my life behind these bars since the age of 12. I only spent one year out there and now, I am 48 years old.”
A favorite piece shows four men and four women in blue. One of them reflects a beacon of light. In another painting, a red and blue flag waves behind prison bars, with a masked person inside a cell, as Americans outside look into the prison, surrounded by clouds that look like smoking tombstones.
The tombstones bear no names, representing the people who died from COVID throughout the world. The vision promotes closure, a knowledge that loved ones lost are in Heaven. The painting is aimed at those outside prisons and at incarcerated persons throughout the world.
When Small was housed at Jamestown, the Williams James Association, through Arts and Corrections, encouraged him to make postcards from his art, which he has done with this particular piece.
“I have PTSD; art helps me challenge my thoughts, it helps me put things in a different perspective,” said Small. “Though things may seem ugly to me, it brings out the world’s beauty, changes my mood, thinking, attitude, it heals wounds.”
Having natural gifts, Small has brought his talent alive with a painting of two elephants in the wild. The entangled beasts are in the fight of their lives. He also has a beautiful piece of a wolf in the midst of a horizon at sunset.
According to Small, most of his paintings have a hidden signature, a sketching of two small roses. “These two roses were for my mother and grandmother who passed away, the roses that I was not able to give them,” said Small. “You will find roses in some of my other paintings, signifying someone that I loved.”
To some incarcerated men, art is a universal language that connects emotions and inner selves to heal unspoken pain.
This painting depicts all the pain and emotions throughout the day that follow him until the sun goes down along with the unsettled feelings of loneliness.