My ArtHop picks for April include a meaningful new exhibition at Fresno State’s M Street Graduate Studios. “Insider Art: Exploring the Arts Within Prison Environments” features work from incarcerated individuals serving time at Avenal State Prison. More than 100 paintings, drawings, sculptures and other work — most created by men in prison art classes — will be on display. But this is more than a simple exhibition. It’s meant to be an immersive experience. The multimedia elements include a video of a performance by the prison’s theater group, recordings of music from the prison’s five different bands, recorded interviews with some of the artists, and a series of photographs by Fresno State professor Neil Chowdhury offering a behind-the-scenes view of prison life.
ArtHop, the monthly open house of galleries and studios in the downtown and Tower District neighborhoods, runs from 5-8 p.m. at most venues on Thursday, April 5. My other picks (which you can read about below) are at Spectrum Art Gallery, Fresno City Hall, Corridor 2122, Arte Americas and fres.co.
The Fresno State prison art show is the culmination of a two-year effort by project co-directors Emma Hughes, chair of the university’s criminology department, and Cindy Urrutia, director of the campus Center for Creativity and the Arts. They partnered with the university’s College of Social Sciences, College of Arts and Humanities, and Project Rebound, a student support services program.
The spark for the exhibition came after Hughes’ repeated research visits to Avenal State Prison. She admired large murals that had been painted on the walls, and she learned they were the work of incarcerated individuals who had formed art classes in the prison. These groups weren’t taught by outside instructors but by interested inmates.
This promotional video gives background on “Insider Art.”
“I was always impressed by the artwork I saw,” Hughes says.
By working with Lt. Doug Snell of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, Hughes and Urrutia were able to make the exhibition a reality. After a call was put out to the Avenal prison population for the show, so many entries were received that there wasn’t enough room to include them all.
An exhibition catalog includes essays written by two of the artists, Joseph Frye and Eric Bergen, both of whom were instrumental in organizing the art classes at Avenal.
This is the first prison art exhibition put together by Fresno State, to Hughes’ knowledge, but it has been done elsewhere. A well known example is the Arts by Offenders program, sponsored by the Koestler Trust, which includes an annual UK exhibition in partnership with London’s Southbank Centre.
For Hughes, who has been to the big Koestler event a number of times, an art exhibition helps create a bridge between the prison and the community.
“It helps to break down barriers and allow the public to see incarcerated individuals in perhaps a different light,” she says. “At the same time, the individuals who are exhibiting their work feel empowered by being able to share these expressions of themselves in this public way.”
The organizers have been sure to arrange one important thing. The artists will have a chance to “see” the exhibition themselves — if not in person, then using technology.
“It’s incredibly important to us that they be involved as much as they can,” she says.
Parts of the opening-night reception will be filmed, and there will be a video walk-through that the men can view later. Those recaps will also be uploaded to a website accessible to family and friends.
A panel discussion will be held from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 4, in the Alice Peters Auditorium in the Leon S. Peters University Business Center at Fresno State. Panelists include Rosemary Ndoh, warden of Avenal State Prison; Thomas-Whit Ellis, Fresno State theater professor; and Lt. Doug Snell of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
ArtHop details: “Insider Art: Exploring the Arts within Prison Environments” opens Thursday, April 5, as part of ArtHop, at Fresno State’s M Street Graduate Studios, 1419 M St. Doors open at 5 p.m. with opening remarks at 6 p.m. The exhibition runs through April 22.
Spectrum Art Gallery
Works by three photographers at Spectrum Art Gallery are presented in “Anomalies.” Joan K. Sharma’s “Blue Whirl” abstract series (at right) is created by gestural camera movement and slow shutter speeds to create expressive compositions and with diaphanous color. Donna Hopson’s “Future Relics of Frida Kahlo” uses a “cooperative model” (her Frida doll) in a series of mixed-media photographic works using fabric.
And Jeff Hill’s digital photography blends “a mixture of cast-off, man-made components with constituents such as plants, flowers, water and sky, and uses layers of neon pop-art colors to create one-of-a-kind graphics.”
Details: Spectrum Art Gallery, 928 E. Olive Ave. Closing reception is 3-5 p.m. April 29.
Fresno City Hall
We live in ag country, and don’t ever forget it. What better way to celebrate than viewing the annual “Arts Alive in Agriculture” exhibition? This Fresno Arts Council event draws top talent and is always a crowd pleaser.
Awards will be announced at 6 p.m. during ArtHop.
Details: Fresno City Hall, 2600 P St. After the 5-8 p.m. ArtHop reception, you can view the show during regular business hours.
Christopher Lopez always has something interesting up his sleeve in terms of his art. Just the title of his new show alone — “Auto Trans Sedation” — has to make you wonder, right? He’s the featured artist this month at Corridor 2122.
This thriving cultural arts center had an interesting Facebook post the other day with this photo:
The text: “Our upcoming women’s exhibition showcases the genius of 2D and 3D artists AND is intended to create awareness about gender disparity in galleries where women are woefully underrepresented. Arte Américas seeks to be a leader by the simple act of intentionally including more women artists in our exhibitions.”
You can certainly say that again. Now in its fourth year, a thriving series continues with “Four Degrees of Separation: A Sisterhood of Women Artists.” The show features women artists from throughout California. Here’s a work by Joyce Kierejczyk:
Details: Opens on Thursday, April 5, with a 5 p.m. ArtHop reception.
Here’s an art event for a cause:
“Cuidad + Soñando + Pop” is an Art Hop fundraiser for scholarships granted to AB 540 undocumented students at Fresno State. There will be vendors, music and art for sale by college students concerned about the status of our undocumented community. There will also be a video game tournament where the winner will receive prizes.
Sounds like a great evening.
Details: 6-10 p.m. at fres.co, 1918 Fresno St. (next to the Crest Theatre).
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