Thursday, 10 November 2011

Art by Offenders.

Oh my ears and whiskers, I am so behind with everything. I meant to blog about the Koestler Trust Art By Offenders show long before now, and suddenly I've found that it's ending in a week!  If you're in London, take a look - it's free, and it's in the gallery at the bottom of the Royal Festival Hall on the South Bank, SE1.
The Koestler Trust is a charity which in its own words, is all about "inspiring offenders to take part in the arts, work for achievement and transform their lives".  Their website here is very interesting, I've realised. I had never really looked into what they did before.

Anyway the picture above is called "Lowry on Prozac" and I love it - it's so full of humour and life.

I was impressed by this detailed and striking piece of textile art. It is called "Tribal Nations" and its maker, William Andrew Ross, of HM Prison Channings Wood, Devon, says that he has been developing his art skills for 25 years, in various media. They include oils, sculpture, graphics, 3-D computer modelling and animation. He hopes to make a living when he gets out.  He is obviously a talented craftsman as he has won the Worshipful Company of Weavers Silver Award for this piece, and he didn't even mention textiles in his list of crafts!

The work on display isn't only by prisoners. It's also by people in secure mental hospitals, and people who are confined in deportation centres, like this haunting photo (below) by Mukhtar Noor from the Colnbrook Immigration Removal Centre.

(The picture isn't really skewed like this - I snapped it an angle.)

I found this one rather touching. It's called "Walking Away from the Rain" by Leroy Francis of HM Prison Stafford.  He wrote "I thought how walking in the rain is generally considered a miserable experience, full of grey, black and muddy brown colours. I wanted to recall the memory of walking in the rain as a child. It was a happy, fun experience, and I decided to portray this by using bright, happy colours."  And indeed he has, but the person in the photo has his back to us, and is walking away.

I thought the picture below was very striking - at first I was imagining it as a variation on Edvard Munch's "The Scream" but then I laughed when I saw the title, which is "No Chips Again!" The artist, Pedro Murray, of HM Prison Wandsworth, was making a point about prison food.

One of the weirdest and most striking of the pictures was called "Cognitive Distortive Reality" by Anon. His picture has won him a painting scholarship.  I can't reproduce it large enough but it is full of peculiar detail - on one side of the prisoner all is well, on the other side, all is NOT well with the same people

A mirror is supplied so you can read some of the back-to-front writing. Here's a detail:

There is more than a touch of surrealism in this ironic sculpture, showing a dog as a judge, riding on a horse which is both a clock and a lamp.  It's called "Sitting Proud" by Peter Thomas, of Merseyside Probation Service. An extraordinary, eye catching piece by a talented craftsman - I wonder what the story is behind it.

My favourite picture was powerful and disturbing. I'm sorry I didn't get a decent photo of it - there is a line of light reflecting off the glass. It's also by Anon, but  I would say that this image is the work of a really gifted artist, whoever he is.  I would absolutely not like to meet the character portrayed here, because you can see exactly what sort of a person he must be.   As the artist says, "See the paint roar!"
After looking at these, and many other excellent works, I thought about the people who created them and their locked up lives. I don't know what they have done, but I'll find out more about the Koestler Trust, anyway.   And I left the exhibition, feeling very glad to be free, and walked the few steps to look at the Thames at Festival Pier
and felt very grateful that I could be out and about in a great place like London on a nice autumn evening.
Art by Offenders is on at the Southbank Centre till 20 November 2011.


  1. So interesting-I might go at the weekend!

  2. Very interesting pieces of art. I am most fond of the textile piece.

  3. What interesting art work. London looks lovely, your photo captures a perfect evening out.

  4. Thank you for the stroll, I miss visiting London so much, it is a tad to far for me now :(

    And, how I miss the culture, wonderful post.

  5. It's interesting to know that you felt free after appreciate many tremendous art works.
    The familiar places looked slightly different, I suppose. Thank you for sharing the nice works.
    Have a good weekend.

  6. The artwork are amazing.

    I wish I'm nearby so I can visit and experience it myself, firsthand. :)

  7. Wow! What talent! And what interesting perspectives. That man with the cigarette is haunting! Thanks for sharing these.

  8. I like looking at unusual things. Those paintings are really detailed and thought-provoking. Nice contrast in your post after seeing the artwork and being free to leave and go outside into the bright and wide open space.

  9. Hello Jenny:
    What a wonderful exhibition displaying such very great talent. We particularly love the Leroy Francis for all of the reasons which he gives. Oh to be in London for such 'free' treats as this.

    Jó hétvégét.

  10. Having worked with ex-and current offenders (Probation) I know how artistic some of them are. Some learned their skills whilst 'inside' which I found amazing in such an atmosphere. I wish I could see this exhibition of their work. Thank you for sharing the pictures.

  11. Some very powerful work here. Thankyou for this.

  12. This is a fabulous post. Like you, I was impressed by the faux Lowry, but my favourite was "Distortive Cognitive Reality". I can quite see why it won a scholarship. But there are several others that would hold their own in any company. As I said, a fabulous post. I shall be back a few times for another look, I think.

  13. I think I agree with you on the favourite painting.

  14. Your post is impressive, loved viewing the great works of art! Placing the image of your 'favorite disturbing' picture at the end, just before showing us the brilliance of London was brilliant itself. It was like taking a deep breath at the end.

  15. I like the first picture too. You described it as "full of humour and life". "Humour" is what I feel about the picture but couldn't put it that way.I also feel something warm and gentle about it.
    I was also drawn to "Cognitive Distortive Reality"
    I remember seeing some exhibition here, where there were furniture such as a chest of drawers with elaborate wooden carving or beautiful craftworks for sale. They were made by prisoners during a part of their rehabilitation program.

  16. Some fantastic art there, thanks for sharing this.

    Thanks for visiting me and taking the time to comment. Nice to meet you. :)

  17. Brilliant works of art.I love the idea of Lowry on Prozac, with all the bright colours instead of the usual gloomy ones, and people who're fit and healthy rather than stick-like and disabled.

  18. Hello Jenny~

    Just wanted to stop by and say thank you for dropping by my blog earlier today. It was so nice meeting you!

    What a GREAT blog you have here! And can see from your comments, that we blog with some of the same wonderful people.

    Enjoyed all these pieces you shared. Especially, "Lowry on Prozac."

    HA! Love it too! The title is stellar!

    Have a nice weekend!

    P.S. love your blog header!

  19. What an interesting post. I've always been fascinated by artwork created by prisoners and others who are in institutions. There is so much talent locked up inside those walls and I am always glad when I hear of those who find a sense of freedom thorough creating art.

    I'm so glad you posted this. Very nice photos of London, also. I've never been and it looks very inviting. Twilight on the Thames is captured beautifully.

  20. Now that's a lot of beautiful artwork and photography :-) I like this post a lot...

  21. Great to see what everyone thinks and what the favourites are. @Theresa Evangelina, hope you make it to London one day! @Ron, thanks for such a nice post, yes, I found your blog through a link and I love it too! thanks for joining mine. @Nick, I hadn't noticed so many of Lowry's people were also disabled, but you're right. @cosmos, there were also some beautifully made items in the show, specially things made of match sticks. I wonder if prisoners make things from match sticks in Japan. @Akelamalu, nice to meet you and read your blog. @Sarah, hope you made it to the show. There are sections of it upstairs too on the ground floor, not so well signposted!

  22. That is one of the most compelling posts I've looked at for a long time (in both senses of the sentence). When I saw the first picture I saw the laconic humour and then as I saw most of the others I saw so much emotion. The idea of having one's liberty taken away is beyond my comprehension. I wonder how much comes from deprivation of liberty or whether the emotion preceded that deprivation.

  23. What an incredible exhibition that must be!! I am going to try my very best to visit there on Wednesday evening - it looks brilliant. Your two photographs of the Festival Pier and the London Eye are just stunning. They are really, really beautiful!

  24. Oh my goodness, thank you! I don't know when or if I will ever make it to London - I was only there once in 1987 - but this was an unbelievable tour. Every single photograph was a revelation. I think your favourite was also my favourite, but "Cognitive Distortive Reality" and "No Chips Again" were close behind.

  25. This is quite fascinating! Your favorite Anon portrait also caught my eye. It made me think of what Dorian Gray's portrait might actually look like after those years of depravity. It is rather sad to think what these people behind bars may have done or how they exist in their current states. So, I was happily uplifted when you ended it with an affirmation of free life under an autumn sky!

  26. These are incredible art works aren't they. I can't help thinking that if many of the artists had not been forced into an educational mold as children - one that did not recognise dyslexia, ADHD etc as reasons for non-conformity - they might have chosen a kinder path to follow...
    My two favourites are the woven headress and the smoking malice.

  27. The talent that shows in the works of art is amazing. I really enjoyed looking at the pieces you show.


  28. Like all great travellers, I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen.


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