Art by Offenders at Royal Festival Hall

The Great White Shark by Adie McLellanThe Great White Shark, Adie McLellan, HM Prison Wayland, Norfolk

A couple of weeks ago, I visited Jenny Woolf’s blog An English Travel Writer and I saw that she had been to a fascinating exhibition at the Royal Festival Hall on the Southbank.  The exhibition was called Art by Offenders, Secure Patients and Detainees and it is run by the Koestler Trust, the body that awards, exhibits and sells the artwork of offenders, detainees and secure patients in the UK.

Jenny mentioned that the exhibition was in its final days (it closed on Sunday) and I knew I just had to visit it myself.

In a word, I was amazed by what I saw.  The level of talent, expression and emotion expressed in these works of art was incredible and I was really touched.

The work above was created using matchsticks and it must have taking extreme patience, focus and time to complete.  Lots of time.

Art by Offenders-The Heeds 1-Know Your Enemy-Misspent YouthThe Heed 1, Garry Slavem, HM Prison Addiewell, Scotland
Know Your Enemy, Anon, HM Prison Shotts, Scotland
Misspent Youth, Daniel Hogg, Bracknell Probation Service, Berkshire

This is not the type of exhibition that you rush around, that is for sure.  The pieces just seem to draw you in, to demand that you consider them, look at them and think about them. For instance, in Know Your Enemy, the artist commented on the fact that society judges and pigeon-holes people based on appearances or circumstances which causes alienation and marginalisation.  But we mustn’t jump to conclusions as maybe this character is not the enemy after all. 

Misspent Youth - Art by OffendersMisspent Youth, Daniel Hogg, Bracknell Probation Service, Berkshire

This piece of work really impressed me and the strangest thing is that I was going to walk past it when it pulled me back.  I realised that the brush on the left (see above) was the finished product, the person who grew up, completed their rites of passage.  And the unfinished work represented the person who fell into crime, drugs or gangs at a young age.  I totally got that.  So many of the people I have spoken to who have overcome those early experiences feel that there were so many areas of their life that were left unfinished, so many things they had to learn about the most basic things when they entered back into the mainstream.  This artist has left prison now, having completed A-level art in prison, and is now completing an art degree.

Not So Amazing by AnonNot So Amazing, Anon, HM Prison Whatton, Nottingham

The work above was quite interesting and I tried to get a close up of the detail (you can click on the photo for a better look).  The man on the far left has “I’m not a number” written on his shirt and the prison is called HMP Mazed.  I love the play on words and the depiction of the prison as a maze.  This painting won the James Wood Q.C. Platinum Award and was submitted for the theme ‘Help’.

The Charlton Athletic Football Fan by Paul DenhamThe Charlton Athletic Football Fan, Paul Denham, Salinas Valley State Prison, California, USA

The image above caught my eye not only because of the unusual scene that it depicts but also because of the artists’ sense of humour in the title that he chose.   It occurred to me that spending time in a prison a million miles away from home must be incredibly difficult and I wonder whether he needs to hold on to his identity as an English football fan.

Inner Turmoils by Sebastion WilburInner Turmoils, Sebastion Wilbur, John Howard Centre, London (secure psychiatric centre)

The detail on this piece was incredible and much of this piece was done in pen on paper.  It had been torn in places and it was quite sad as although framed, putting it behind glass would have detracted from it, so I feel it is a fragile piece of work.  As the curator remarked, it is as though the artist poured his emotions out of his head and into his hand.

Art by OffendersHeads Up, Anon, HM Prison Pentonville, London
The Dallery, Group of 2, HM Prison Hewell, Worcestershire
Prison of the Future, Anon, HM Prison Wormwood Scrubs, London
Demon in Solitary, Dean Polley, HM Prison Littlehey
They Still Wear Suits Like This, Don’t They?, Michael Lester, HM Prison Shepton Mallet
All Alone, Richard Gordon, HM Prison Lindholme, Doncaster

I found many of the images above quite powerful.  In The Dallery, the woman’s sense of isolation and resignation is quite clear, especially when you notice that her eyes are closed beneath her sunglasses.  They Still Wear Suits Like This, Don’t They? was especially powerful and reminded me that individuals often spend upwards of 25 years behind bars only to emerge into a completely different world from the one they left behind.

Untitled by Darren PerryUntitled,Darren Perry, HM Prison Ranby, Nottinghamshire

The artist explained that the work above was about how "many prisoners get out and take for granted all the really good things they have". I thought this was quite an important message and wonder how many of us sit through our lives ignoring what is right in front of us.

Art by Offenders montageWho’s Bad, Bevan Davidson, HM Prison Hewell, Worcestershire
They Still Wear Suits Like This, Don’t They?, Michael Lester, HM Prison Shepton Mallet
Last Supper, Christopher Courana, Swinfen Hall Young Offender Institution
My World, Anon, HM Prison Full Sutton, York 
Disappoint Man, Anon, Feltham Young Offender Institution, London 
U Got Mail, Anon, HM Prison Shotts, Scotland 
Door, Mukhtak Noor, Colnbrook Immigration Removal Centre

I stood looking at this collection of works for a long time, as did a man next to me. I was particularly taken with the Michael Lester piece, as mentioned above, and also Mukhtak Noor’s Door.  I felt quite strange that we have ‘immigration removal centres’ and it felt a bit like the England of Children of Men, not the civilised country I thought I was moving to.  The man next to me stood looking at U Got Mail for a long time and then remarked to me how powerful that feeling is, receiving a letter in prison.

Life- by Group of 8Life?, Group of 8, HM Prison & Young Offender Institution, Hydebank Wood, NI

This group work is so simple and yet it raises so many questions.  What is life? What is life in prison? Is that life? A very good piece.

My Twisted Path to A Lightermint by AnonMy Twisted Path to A Lightermint, Anon, HM Prison Whatton, Nottingham

This last piece really impressed me because it was so current and it dealt with so many of the issues that are facing people today.  It cannot be easy to find yourself on the wrong side of the law and to feel that the whole system is against you.  I quite liked the humour in the title of this one too.

My Twisted Path to A Lightermint (detail)My Twisted Path to A Lightermint, Anon, HM Prison Whatton, Nottingham

Once I finished walking around the exhibition, I wondered outside to the riverside terraces of the Royal Festival Hall.  Everything looked so pretty and festive and I took a moment to admire the London Eye and the lights on the river.  It was to be the last remotely warm evening in an unseasonably warm autumn.

South Bank

Drink Shop Do

I then headed off to Drink, Shop, Do near King’s Cross Station to attend the re-launch of Richenda Walford’s fabulous site London Remembers.  Richenda’s goal is to visit every single street in London to catalogue all of the memorials, plaques, monuments and statues that the city has to offer.  She has thousands of entries on her site and counting.

It was also amazing that in a city of 7.5 million people, I ran into Melizza from Pincushion Treats.  It is not the first time I have randomly run into people I know in this city!

By the way, Drink, Shop, Do is a fabulous little tea shop that is open until late at night and they served us yummy sandwiches.  I would love to visit there again one day.

15 comments on "Art by Offenders at Royal Festival Hall"
  1. Very interesting,
    Greetings from France,


  2. some of the drawings are very good!

  3. These works are stunning. Moreover I really enjoy your night shots. London is so gorgeous at night! I still have not been on the London Eye. Have you ever done it?

  4. Wow...super-wow...thanks for sharing this massively beautiful post of such talent and such creative energy! I am going to gaze at it again..and re-read! I would have LOVED to be gazing in person too..lucky gal!Thanks for this fab spotlight!You rock..very inspiring and stimulating!!

  5. Looks like an interesting exhibition. Thanks so much for sharing this. Have you visited the ongoing Da Vinci exhibition at the National Gallery ?

  6. I adore Drink Make Do! !! i've only been once - for a babyshower - but the environment was so eccentric i loved it!

  7. A fabulous exhibit I have to make sure to go to. I have a growing list!

    If you ever want to meet at Drink, Shop, Do for an after work drink let me know.

  8. Very interesting exhibit; they clearly have a lot to say in their art. I don't think I've ever heard of such an exhibit in the U.S. but our system is brutal. I'm back--I really missed my blogging friends! Herding Cats is defunct; I'm at a new location if you'd like to come see (I couldn't bring my old followers with me for some reason so you'd have to follow again if you like.)

  9. stunning artwork pieces!

    what an interesting post, emm!

    have a great rest of the weekend!

    betty xx

  10. Thanks for the link to my blog, Emm, and I am really pleased to have the chance to see some of the exhibits again in your photos.One or two, I did not remember from first time around. Did you see that there were some upstairs too, in the RFH lobby? I appreciate that you gave so much background too. And of course, I'm really glad you enjoyed it.

    I haven't been to Drink Shop and Do, it's about 6 months since I visited Kings Cross area and walked around, obviously time for another visit. I'll visit the website now.

  11. You're right Emm, this is a fascinating compilation of works. The pieces are quite diverse and surprising.

  12. looks like a great exhibition to explore. some of the artworks are tastefully done. i'm so glad you shared them with us through your blog. Thank you.

  13. @ Pierre:thank you!

    @ Ola: yes, I agree, some of them are very good indeed!

    @ Oneika: yes! I went on a sunset flight on May 2010. It was incredible!!

    @ Victoria: thank you! And yes, I thought you might appreciate the artistic talent!

    @ Ash: no, I haven't but I've been getting a lot of hints to visit the National Gallery lately, I simply must go.

    @ Within Ireland: I'm going back tonight!! I hope to try out more sandwiches!

    @ Pin Cushion Treats: the exhibition has finished but it will return next year!!

    @ Andrea: I've heard the US system is more brutal but I'd hope they have some form of art therapy. See you at your new blog!!

    @ Betty: thank you! I agree!!

    @ Jenny: only a pleasure. I didn't see the upstairs area! Woe!

    @ Ancient Digger: they were so talented!

    @ Life Ramblings: always a pleasure!!

  14. I was at this exhibition. The maze picture stuck out in my memory, and I only just googled it to find your page. As I scrolled through your post, it was like walking round the exhibition again, so thank for that. =) I also liked your interpretation of the images. Good work.

    1. I'm glad you enjoyed it and glad you found my post Jambo!


Comments are welcome!

All comments are moderated and will be published once approved

Hint: Comment using Name / URL so that I can follow you back to your blog