Guy Woodard: We the People
June 19, 2019 - July 21, 2019
Opening Reception: Wednesday, June 19, 6–8 PM
I’ve done so much with so little for so long that now I believe I can do anything with nothing at all. —Guy Woodard
Showcasing a refined technique born of necessity, Howl! Happening is pleased to present Guy Woodard’s We the People, an exhibition that illuminates one artist’s work and world, building a case for social justice and a contemporary dialogue around mass incarceration.
Howl! is pleased to present Woodard’s series of evocative ballpoint pen drawings that frame deeply moving illustrations of black life. Also included in the exhibition will be forgeries of documents that point to issues relevant to contemporary art and social history, including Tamir Rice’s police academy diploma and the diploma of Trayvon Martin from Howard University.
A former counterfeiter and forger, Woodard’s 20-year “criminal” career ended with a seven-year forced hiatus in a federal facility. Having aspired to be an artist his entire life, he viewed his time in prison as an opportunity to perfect his craft. His bubble burst when the Federal Bureau of Prisons officer in charge of the arts-and-crafts department informed Woodard he wasn’t allowed oil paints or turpentine. “You’re supposed to be an artist. Learn to paint with something else,” the officer taunted.
Contemplating what he might use as a medium, he noticed the tiny dots in an old, grainy newspaper photograph. Inspired by the illustrators he saw in magazines growing up—among them Norman Rockwell and Maxfield Parrish—he began to approach his drawings like oil paintings, applying his dots of ink in layers to create depth and rhythm. He taught himself to “paint” with a 25-cent Bic pen. What began as an act of defiance has enabled the artist to fulfill his love for detail and definition as no other medium could.
Illustrating an alternative metaphor of contemporary American life, Woodard’s subjects do not inhabit Rockwell’s ideal world. Rather his “maximinalist” realist paintings reflect and represent contemporary black life, activism, and culture. We the People, the piece which names the exhibition, illustrates a zero-tolerance case in which the court upheld the arrest and booking of a 12-year-old girl for eating a French fry on the Washington, D.C. subway system, where consuming food is prohibited by law.
“Howl’s vision is to use art and creativity as an entry point to create dialogue around issues of social importance. Prison is dehumanizing, but people find ways to express freedom, to connect to their humanity,” says Jane Friedman, executive director of Howl! Happening.
A series of panel discussions and special events will delve into the prison industrial complex and the historical and contemporary conditions that create the necessity for prisons. Featured will be a panel on artmaking in prison with writer and Rutgers professor Nicole Fleetwood, whose book Marking Time: Prison Art and Public Culture is scheduled for publication in February 2020.
“Guy’s art is one example of what men and women inside prison can and do create every day,” say Katherine Cheairs, Howl’s director of education.
Woodard will also lead an evening of artmaking as part of the free Vega Arts Workshop series on Wednesday, July 10th from 7–9 PM.
About the Vega Arts Workshop Series
As part of its continuing commitment to the community, Howl! Happening: An Arturo Vega Project presents the free Vega Arts Workshop Series, an educational initiative designed to offer individuals access to the creative process, and broaden opportunities to express themselves through the visual arts. Participants produce their own works of art through hands-on experiences with acclaimed artists working in varied disciplines.
Inspired by Arturo Vega’s legacy and spirit of generosity, openness, and forward thinking, the Vega Arts Workshop Series speaks to Howl! Happening’s mission by recognizing that making connections between people and art generates new ideas and activates our community, and that creative expression is a potent engine for change. For further information about the Vega Arts Workshop Series contact Katherine Cheairs, director of education.