San Francisco

“Inmate Paintings From Vacaville”

Art Unlimited

Fifty-seven works from seventeen prisoners at the California Medical Facility, several of whom were professional artists before incarceration. Professionals do not always come up with top level works, in prison or out, and the Vacaville group is no exception. Much of the work here is less than mediocre, having obviously been shown for sentimental reasons only.

Raymond King, concerned with the dark mystery of the city at night and the intriguing aspects of life therein, is by far the best in the show. He paints in somber colors, at times with deep psychological penetration, occasionally turning to collage for an assist in texture. He shows to better advantage here than in his recent Sacramento exhibition. Gus Bouquet, a commercial artist capable of good, solid illustration, is shallow by comparison although his boats and piers are less morbid than the work of his fellow prisoners. Ullery and Heady, both with previous training, reach opposite ends of realistic expression: Ullery in a pastoral landscape in the mood of an elegy, Heady with a diabolical “portrait” titled Miss Elaine Yuss. Apparently symbolizing a grade-school teacher (as authority?), than whom there is no greater terror to the reluctant school boy.

The paintings have attracted a tremendous crowd of viewers, culture-minded or vulture-minded, and have received more than usual cooperation from the press. The Governor himself turned out to see their first showing at Vacaville, although he is not in evidence at many important exhibitions of art. Despite its plea of “public service,” the wisdom of Art Unlimited, a gallery professing to high standards in art, in presenting “inmate art” as such is questionable. The show contains almost no high calibre works, implying crime-and-punishment as the vehicle into the gallery. This must raise some bitter and resentful thoughts in the minds of young aspirants of greater talent, refused gallery showing, who stay within the limits of the law.

E. M. Polley