AWAKENING PRISON ART
is an American military veteran who served honorably in Vietnam and had a distinguished career as a photojournalist. Now serving a life sentence in a Southern prison, he is a practicing Buddhist deeply dedicated to self-transformation through spiritual study and meditative practice. He has devoted himself to raising rescue dogs through a cooperative program with an outside organization, as well as serving his inmate veterans' group. I have corresponded with Daishi for over a decade. His letters reveal an acute intelligence and a sometimes heartbreaking sensitivity to beauty and human kindness. They tell of his grief over the death of his beloved sister, squalid living conditions in sweltering cells, guards who may be cruel or corrupt, and, always, his determination to find goodness and peace.
Like many prisoners, especially those who have lost their families, Daishi is indigent. He has no money to purchase such basic necessities as toothpaste, antiperspirant, skin lotion, stamps, envelopes, tea bags, and batteries for the radio that provides contact with the outside world. For some years, he could lose himself in doing artwork, until his artist's materials were arbitrarily confiscated by prison authorities. I encouraged him to start drawing again, even with a ballpoint pen, and offered to make his work available to patrons who could help him support himself honorably. He managed to obtain colored pencils and acid-free paper and resumed drawing. More recently, he has begun to branch out into watercolors and improvised media, including tints on salvaged scraps of fabric.
evokes new, freer worlds conjured from within his own constricted world. He specializes in imagined bird species and other fanciful beings, rendered in finely worked pencil strokes of vivid color. Their eyes are often particularly striking, gazing from their own realms into ours with determination, skepticism, joy, or apprehension. Other topics include loving portraits of dogs, "Sacred Spaces," abstracted Vietnam reminiscences, the colossal heads of the ancient Mesoamerican Olmec civilization, close-up studies of objects such as a feather or a candy bar, and portraits of characters from other galaxies and dimensions, where the epic Floro Wars take place.
CLICK ON ANY IMAGE TO ENLARGE IT.
I've tried to make the scans below as accurate as possible, but they often don't fully convey the delicacy of Daishi's line and his nuanced use of shade and color. The dimensions listed are approximate image sizes, and sometimes I have to guess at the media used. Most images are on somewhat larger paper, usually with roughly scallped edges: Daishi is not allowed to have scissors, so he has to cut his paper to size with his thumbnail.