Mixed media collaboratively-created collages by 8 prisoners and artist Sara Downham-Lotto
All of these exhibits were begun in artist-run workshops inside Dartmoor prison, UK, as part of the National Lottery Community-funded Great Prison Art Exchange. The objective, to reduce incidences of self harm and suicide.
‘Door locked. A horseshoe of chairs next to an expanse of white paper on the floor; table 1 with tea urn, tea bags, custard creams and a row of plastic blue mugs; table 2 laden with paint pots, brushes, pastels and a pile of paper. Over 3 hours of shared creative making, we connect, talk and laugh. There’s a heightened eagerness in the room to be involved in something which gives us a shared sense of purpose, which helps to pass the time when we are alone, which helps to make our environment (physical and emotional) more beautiful and which, above all, gives us hope of a life better than this …’
Now into its second year, vulnerable male prisoners and artist Sara Downham-Lotto have collaborated to produce a body of work for display and instalment both inside and outside the prison establishment. To date, we have installed 20 pieces of art on the corridor walls of Dartmoor Prison and have had 3 exhibitions outside the establishment. Some of the work is also available for purchase in print and original from our online Shop. At the suggestion of the prisoners themselves, all profits go towards ensuring these sessions can continue for as long as possible.
During their fortnightly sessions (pre-Covid), participants were encouraged to be in the moment and enjoy the creative process exploring and experimenting with a variety of art mediums and materials. Locked up so much of the time with scant opportunity, if any, for creative expression, the freedom that working in the abstract genre affords, results in an eagerness to get stuck in and have fun. Back in her studio, Sara brought together all of painterly experiments and games created inside the prison into concentric circles and squares that became the Worlds and Discs series that you see here.
To learn more about our process, see the Journal post Why Prisoners Love Abstract Art.