Much about prison art has been written and shown. Little has been depicted about prisoners in art works. Famous are, however, Michaelangelo´s prisoners. Powerful statues of slaves in marble, “non finito” (unfinished). What a work of art carving out the winding figures out of a block of marble showing the struggle of men to free from the spirit of matter. Were they left unfinished, because we don´t know if they were freed or if they lived after the struggle?
Paton Miller´s Public Enemy Number One shows the impossibility of the prisoners freedom. Not even able to move his hands, strapped to a piece of wood around his neck, keeping them in a praying state, he encounters a wild dog, barking at him. He has no chance if this creature tries to attack him. He can´t run. One of his foot is chained to a massive iron ball. They are outside on an open landscape. Just them. The prisoner is not overstepping boundaries. He rests calmly. You can feel the impossibility of him getting free, but the astounding thing is that he does not struggle, he does not seem to want to go anywhere. The wild dog is his dearest friend, barking at him to get him going? Soulful companion.
Initially painted over 28 years ago, then put aside, and obscured by other works until Miller recently finished the painting, and this is the first time it is exhibited.
This is the first time the painting is shown in an art gallery. Some people who aim to look for beautiful things, don´t look at the prisoner. This is the most powerful piece of art work I have seen. And it gives freedom.
Because the prisoner is not in an internal war, the prisoner is at peace with himself. And that makes him free. There is no inner struggle. Overt horror is only established at a fist glance of this monumental piece of art. Other viewers stop, not able to exhale while looking at the painting, mesmerized.
I see the prisoner every day coming into the art gallery. He is my friend. I don´t need to tell him that he is fine, that I will feed his dog, we are both at ease. Seeing the day going by, the darkness arriving. There will be a next day. No “non finito”.