“I paint and I write because it gives me purpose,” said San Quentin resident Paul Stauffer. “It’s a release from tension, and it helps me to release an excess amount of imagination.”
He says he’s appreciative of the art room at San Quentin, where he has the chance to socialize and collaborate with other artists.
Stauffer, 65, considers himself a very passionate person. He says writing poetry allows him to “find the hidden treasures of love, compassion and friendship.” Stauffer says he has one novel nearly competed and five others in the works.
As to his paintings, he says he usually sees them inside his head prior to creating them.
“When I am creating, I am inside my head, and I am no longer in prison,” said Stauffer.
Stauffer says Selma Hayek’s role in the movie Dust to Dawn was inspirational.
He called Hayek the epitome of beauty.
He called his painting inspired by Selma Hayek, Coatlicue, who transforms into a serpent in the art piece.
Watching the movie unfold, Stauffer says his imagination was ignited by the moral of the story — how evil people can be devoured by monsters.
Phoenix Rising is one of Stauffer’s largest paintings. The 4-foot by 5-foot artwork was created with his cousin in mind. It shows a life-sized pheasant taking off out of the tall grass with a hunting dog and a fox looking on. Stauffer says the hunter is out of the view.
In another of Stauffer’s works, he painted a profile view of a lone incarcerated person dressed in royal blue, staring into the distance while holding a set of books entitled Free to Succeed, the name of a program that teaches basic academic skills at San Quentin.
Behind the figure appears an indistinct edifice that represents an enemy, clearly labeled, “Escape, Illiteracy, Ignorance, Imprisonment.” The letters look like they are falling from top to bottom. Slightly askew, the edifice appears to crumble, indicating a triumph of the student over the carceral institution, as if to say that didactic efforts work — effort defeats structure.
Despite the hopeful message, the background adds a horizon that looks far, far away — perhaps unreachably so. Does the artist mean to say the student cannot win after all? If the horizon of education eludes the leftward facing figure, what hope could exist against an unyielding system?
Stauffer began his artistic career after discharging from the U.S. Army nearly 40 years ago.