Polunsky Portrait Project

"Polunsky Portrait Project" (just a working title at this time) is about death row inmates in Texas.  Last year I happened to hear a radio program that addressed the work of a death penalty appellate attorney in Texas.  He spoke about one of his clients who had been on death row for more than a decade, who he felt might have been innocent, who he had grown to trust and admire, and who was eventually executed despite all the legal help that anyone could wish for.  One of his main points was that very often the person that is being executed is no longer the same person who committed the crime.  I was very moved by this narrative and I contacted the attorney, David R. Dow, and put forth the idea of doing painted portraits of some of these inmates so that people would SEE them as individuals who can be intelligent, thoughtful, and caring people.  He connected me with one of his clients, Christopher Young, a very intelligent twenty-nine year old who has been on death row for nine years.  Chris identified three other inmates for the project.  We have since included in the project another inmate who was executed in 2009.  I am not allowed to bring anything into the prison in Texas so I sketch the men from memory after my visits.   The goal of the project will be to bring awareness about the death penalty and to engage other artists to come to the prison and meet with an inmate and produce a portrait.  Hopefully the body of work will grow and the portraits will be shown as a traveling exhibition.  The project was also partially inspired by the exceptional portraits of men in the Jan Goessart exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum in New York.