The eight portraits are larger-than-life, eight feet tall, of heroic proportions. Four of the subjects wear the baggy, bright orange garb of prisoners—which they are. The other four subjects are teens who have an incarcerated parent. In each painting, background icons—a hand grabbing the ankle, a daughter at the ocean, a zoo, family photographs from the past, a mask falling into a breaking mirror—depict the stories of these lives affected by the correctional system.
The oil and acrylic portraits were produced in what San Francisco artist and teacher Evan Bissell ’05 calls a “collaborative dialogue. They were on exhibit at SOMArts Cultural Center Main Gallery through Sept. 19, as part of his work, What Cannot Be Taken Away: Families and Prisons Project.
Along with the portraits, the exhibit included a labyrinth for a meditative experience in personal reflection on the nature of healing and forgiveness, a 36 foot timeline looking at the relationship of incarceration, labor and education in the U.S., and extensive documentation of the project process.
The exhibit and the portraits, says Bissell, evolved from his experience as a teacher and meditations on healing and community.