As I sit nested in the Swiss Alps, preparing for my exhibition TOTENTANZ, dance macabre, the dance of death -which opens in Berlin on September 15, I recall the encounter that proved to be the catalyst for my efforts.
I remember a chance visit of the Blanton Museum of Art, University of Texas at Austin, a moment that propelled me into a space from whence emerges some of the most salient existential questions.
Upon discovering six small drawings by an artist unknown to me, I sent the man via Instagram a selfie of myself in front of his work. My hope was to initiate a relationship with this fine draughtsman.
James “Yaya” Hough invited me into a mental space that one rarely has the possibility to visit. For many of us the criminal world is quite foreign, not to speak of the carceral system, of which we only once in a while get a glimpse -as dreaded as it’s voyeuristically anticipated.
To confine James “Yaya” Hough, to the ex-lifer, incarcerated for close to 30 years for murder in the context of a drug deal when he was 17 -who fights to obtain the possibility of rehabilitation for juvenile criminals, is like trying to stuff the universe into a black hole -I guess it might be possible, but beyond my ability.
Conversely though, James "Yaya" Hough manages to extract, through his exquisite draughtsmanship, a universe -from the black hole that represents the irrevocable sentence: “life without parole.”
Yaya educated himself during his 27 years in prison: from age 17 to 44 he learned about people, and about the laws that organize them. He represented himself legally, and eventually obtained a parole hearing. Knowing a bit about Yaya’s journey, and his engagement with people and the communities he helped consolidate, it is no surprise that he earned his freedom: he was released in 2019.
Yaya has given me the gift of a glimpse into what I might call “a greater soul”; he’s opened the door to the collective energy that ties us together as humans.
Thank you sir! Hats off to your good hand, which is, armed with a ball-point pen and the back of standard issue prison forms, bestowed with grace -a gift presented only to the greatest among draughtsmen.
On the strength of the 30 drawings presented here, I met with my esteemed colleague and friend Ralph Jentsch, managing director of the Estate of George Grosz, and invited him to ponder upon the relationship between two American artists, who not that far apart in time, are knit by their respective importance as acutely perspicacious commentators of their times. They tackle analogous topics, which are all the more pertinent because many issues approached by the one in the 20th century remain unresolved -still, when encountered by the other, in the 21st.
Ralph Jentsch gave me full access to the “Esquire drawings” and to the illustrations for Ben Hecht, all glorious sheets measuring roughly 60 x 46 cm.
I was able to select thirty inks by the “American” George Grosz, to present in conversation with the suite of drawings by fellow American, James “Yaya” Hough.
I offer you here the result of a delightful exercise, where intellect and spirituality are met with outstanding draughtsmanship.