What we’re witnessing over the next month here in Shrewsbury [though most of us won’t see or maybe even be aware of it happening] is the disappearance of a small town within our larger one, a secret town that most of us have never been inside, but which can be glimpsed in an exhibition at Bear Steps. It’s worth going to, upstairs in the room at the end of the gallery: Prisoners’ Art From the Last Days of the Dana. Some of it has been produced in the prison education block, some completed by prisoners in their cells. Some paint a pretty world, some a dark one. Some of it finds things to be joyful about. Some of it is very bleak indeed.
‘It would be no exaggeration to say that all us paid staff and volunteers have been shocked and saddened by the news of the prison's closure,’ wrote Tony Sharp, volunteer chaplain, ‘and by the understanding that saving money overrides all other considerations in matters of this kind.’ And again, ‘Let me put on record that the Dana has a record which is second to none in terms of staff/prisoner relationships. Many men have been thankful that they served their time with us’.
Do take a look at this exhibition if you can. It’s on until the 28th February and much of the work is for sale. I’m sharing with you some of my favourites below - the works that most leaps out at me and seem to have something to say. This one, for example, ‘Basket Case – No Meds’, from Marcos Phillips, whose parents were bargees transporting wood, cement and coal through the Midlands, and who was born on the canals. His are the words that I’ve used in this post's title: Art is my therapy as well as my medication.
Then there’s Sven Dahlberg’s ‘Triptych of Despair’, using powerful images to explore personal experiences that speak of loss, despair, loneliness, hardship and separation. And his ‘Family in Forest’, which again touches upon the sense of loss, for family and prisoner alike, brought about by a gaol sentence.
Another fine painting is Victor Partridge’s ‘On The Bridge’, which after six hours of effort enabled him to ‘capture what he knew, not what he saw’. Then ‘21st Century Scream’ [see above by JM, in acrylic, for sale at £28] was fairly inescapable - as were many more. Here are just a few of them. Tucked into a small space it may be, but this is a big exhibition in every sense of the word:
'On the Bridge' acrylic
Football in the Yard pencil & crayon £16
[alternative titles: Gate Happy, The Dark Side, There's Nothing Bright About Prison, This Is What I See]
New York [Alicia Keyes] £12
Victim charcoal £8
Tinchy Strider watercolour £12
Leaford 'Bob Marley' ink/pencil
Euphoria mixed media £12
Escape Route [?] pencil £16
Waterfall acrylic £30
Bright Prospects acrylic £30