"I'm an Artist, and its a passion which burns with me to the point that it hurts. I am self taught through books and many a long night and a short pencil".
Insider Art is a book about art produced in custody across the UK as well as work by ex-offender artists, most of whom have found their creative vocation inside. At the heart of Insider Art are interviews with a number of these artists, either still incarcerated or now at freedom: they talk about lives transformed by creativity and introduce their work. Conditions of production across the male and female prison estates are explored, including traditional prison crafts such as matchstick modelling and tattooing. Included too is work by those interned without charge in detention centres and prisons.
My book also introduces work produced by patients held at special hospitals and other closed institutions across the UK, some of whom have been detained for decades. On release these and other ex-offenders with mental health problems are now able to develop their creative vocation with practical and therapeutic support from Yorkshire charity Artists in Mind.
Nearly all the offenders and ex-offenders to be featured became artists whilst imprisoned. Maybe the risk-taking and rule-breaking which put them inside also finds expression in this art, for much has conviction, originality and compelling content. It is certainly of concern and relevance both to the wider public, those working in the criminal justice system and the professional artistic community - not to mention offenders and their families. But what about the impact of this work on the victims of crime? Should these artists be allowed to benefit in any way from their wrong-doing, and can their art have any restorative value for those they harmed?
As those who work in the criminal justice system are already aware, evidence from research from both the UK and USA demonstrates the benefits for inmates engaged in creative activities: they participate more effectively with sentence plans, behave less aggressively, improve self-esteem, develop communication skills. Further evidence points to recidivism rates being reduced.
Is Insider Art 'outsider art'? If so, these previously marginalised voices are now challenging boundaries around mainstream art activity, just as contemporary artists themselves increasingly diminish or ignore such distinctions in studio or curatorial practice. Contemporary artists who have worked within the criminal justice system explore this and other questions further, and discuss their experiences.
With growing public awareness of these issues, the restorative, healing and expressive power of Insider Art is both timely and relevant, and will surely help find these 'insider' artists an appreciative audience.