By Christine Joy Ferrer
It was just one of those days…
And just when I started to feel the weight of the world on my shoulders, I received a letter from a James P. Anderson, return address, San Quentin Prison.
Now I have received a few letters from Anderson over the last few years, while working for Urban Habitat’s Race, Poverty & the Environment Journal. I learned of his plight; how he was sentenced to death row more than three decades ago, longer than I’ve been alive on this planet. He allegedly murdered two women, but continues to research and obtain documents in hopes to prove his innocence and wrongful conviction. And yet, confined within jail walls he is a self-styled painter, poet, and consultant, whose work has been showed in numerous galleries, schools, and non-profit organizations throughout the greater Bay Area. Without any formal training, James has managed to build a strong body of work, with surreal and dreamlike symbolic imagery, and innate natural skill. His work speaks for itself.
The last I read about him in the news was in 2011, in relation to the Execution and Murder of Troy Anthony Davis. I kept each letter he’d written me in my office desk drawer. Always wanting to write him or write about him, but never had the opportunity, until now.
A few weeks after I had been laid off from Urban Habitat, I opened his letter. This is only part of what it reads:
“Well, I’m sure that you’ll receive many letters and communications expressing regrets about your departing the Race, Poverty & the Environment journal, and of course, I’m included in those many, and for all the right reasons. I should first say that the photo of you “jumping up in mid-air” is the perfect photograph of you. It truly makes a statement about your SPIRIT. You’re flying. And a spirit with the kind of skills that you have can’t/shouldn’t go unnoticed…I couldn’t end this letter with extending my deepest respects and admiration for your excellent article (Eyes Opened: My Exit Review), and smile. It’s very well written, and informative with the right touch of humor. I’m looking forward to reviewing more of your pieces in the future. Until then, take care and best wishes in all you pursue.”
I have, in fact, received your letter. Thank you for your kind words. It was definitely what I needed to hear at that exact moment. I believe your soul is heaven sent. I hope at some point you’ll read this post. Maybe Dr. Forrest will forward this to you. And, thank you for being an avid reader of the RP&E journal. Stay lifted and enlightened. – CJF
I find the inspiration for my concepts in time… in the events that have taken place from the beginning of time as it has been recorded by man. For those that know, or are seekers of the knowledge and wisdom, the repeats and parallels can be seen, as well as the numerous possibilities of all that may exist within this three dimensional existence. The origins of man, our beliefs, politics, victories, defeats, and evolution, are all symbolically represented in my visual works of art, poetry, and etched or sculpted into pendants and charms. Much can be revealed by these simple, yet profound pieces, for the few that know and see.”
– James Anderson, August 2001
James Phillip Anderson, speaking on his project entitled, “Breaking All the Rules: Insiders and Outsiders”:
I have often given critical thought to the language used to describe the many forms of art, as well as the artists themselves, as it and they are so often critiqued by those who have little true knowledge of either subject. This certainly applies to the term Insider/Outsider Art.
The mainstream appears simply to reject the reality of these artists and their work reflecting the landscapes of their souls, experiences, thoughts, dreams, emotions and visions. Being an “Inside/Outer” myself I often incorporate spiritual symbolic representations to reflect conscious realities. For example, conventional thought would conclude that a simple brick wall would represent containment or confinement of some kind. However, a holistic or spiritually connected person could (and in most cases would) view each brick as being one part of the whole – an individual person, each separate and different yet the same.
Over the past year or so, I’ve become more and more aware that more often than not, the true essence of many of my own works in which there are black and white tiled floors or walkways, the immediate conscious perception is that of an artist who subscribes to the dualism doctrine. With this immediate perception in mind, I feel obliged as a humanist and artist to clarify my conscious position, in that the dominator effect is only a reflection of a reality that does unfortunately exist and thrive, as a result of being diligently perpetrated upon the consciousness of the populace in an effort to maintain, not only control of how we (individually and collectively) think, but the subjects, matters, issues, etc. of ponder as well.
Of course, one or the many benefits of art is its freedom of interpretation, yet we must always be mindful that our “individual absolute truth” cannot be universally applied by any stretch of the imagination. I’d truly prefer to think and believe that my works reflect the birth of our awareness through our individual day-to-day struggles and subjective realities, and as we journey through this three-dimensional level of consciousness, we all become more holistically aware that we are truly “all in this together.”
Archived News Stories on James P. Anderson
Various Articles, Canadian Coalition Against Death Penalty
Berserkers, East Bay Express
Death Row Inmate & Artist James Anderson, Turning Crap Into Compost
About His Case
Artist James P. Anderson, A Case For Reasonable Doubt
The Execution and Murder of Troy Anthony Davis
Visit James Phillip Anderson’s website, www.jamespanderson.com. And also, write to James at: C-11400; 5EY39, San Quentin State Prison, San Quentin, CA 94974.
One thought on “Letter from Death Row: Featuring the Art of James P. Anderson”
I picked up a sculpture with James P Anderson name on bottom, did he do sculptures too?
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