Echols creating his master key from the low quality lock
An Introduction to Damien's Artwork
by Anje Vela and Lady Monster

On May 12th, 2006 Damien Echolsí artwork will be premiered at San Franciscoís 111 Minna Gallery. Dubbing the show ďSkeleton KeyĒ, Damien Echols has taken part in helping with the production of his own event to raise funds for his defense.

This one-night-only event includes music, speaking, and poetry readings by punk legend Henry Rollins, veteran rocker Jonathan Richman, former Misfits front man Michale Graves, Penelope Houston of The Avengers, Jacob Pitts of Comedy Centralís Strangers With Candy, former San Francisco Supervisor Matt Gonzalez. Jello Biafra is tentatively scheduled.

The gallery showing starts at 12:00 PM. The reception will start at 6:00 PM and end at 2:00 AM. Pieces by artists of international fame: Winston Smith, Shepard Fairey, Jayne County and Jonathan Richman are just a few of the exhibitís many surprises. Local DJs Marco Vega and DJ Evil Justin will spin tunes between sets. Donations will be accepted at the door. Visit 111minnagallery.com or call 415.974.1719 for more information.

Having no physical evidence, three teenagers were pinpointed, harassed and accused of murdering and mutilating three 8-year-old boys.  June 3, 2006 marks the 13-year anniversary Damien Echols was arrested along with Jessie Misskelley Jr. and Jason Baldwin dubbing them the West Memphis Three. Damien Echols sits on death row, Jason Baldwin was sentenced to life without parole, and Misskelley got life plus forty. For more information about the case on these three innocent young men visit http://www.wm3.org.

AV: Damien I know you are limited with space and materials.  Where do you create your artwork? 

DE: All of the artwork is made here in my cell, where I am twenty-four hours a day for the most part. Iím usually sitting balanced on the edge of my bunk hunched over whatever Iím working on, which is balanced on my knees.

AV: You are working on a couple of collage pieces with your wife Lorri, what has this done for your relationship?

DE: I feel like the pieces that Lorri (my wife) and I are working on together are just the beginning. Iíve always wanted to work on projects with her, but there was never time. Between work and working on the case, there just never was time or energy to spare. Weíre both really enjoying it, and we talk about it a great deal Ė the feel certain pieces give us, the current that runs through it, etc. This could very well be something we continue to do together for the rest of our lives.

AV: How would you describe your art? How do you create your collages and paintings? 

DE: I believe the artwork could be described in many different ways, on many different levels. The collages, for exampleÖI could say that theyíre a bunch of things that I found and glued together, but thereís more to it than that. Iím constantly on the lookout for things that resonate with my own energy, or the energy Iím feeling at a particular time. The whole point of the collage is to catch a split second of a subtle, living, dynamic current and make that split second concrete. If you do it successfully, then the viewer will catch at least a small glimmer of where you were at when it came together. The human psyche is filled with constantly shifting seams, which hold the fabric of ďmeĒ together. A collage is an interpretation of one of those seams, in the same way that you could try to describe the color of a sound.

The paintings are a little harder to articulate, and require a little back-story. In the 1500ís there was a man named John Dee who was the court astrologer to both Queen Mary I and Queen Elizabeth I.  He had a partner named Edward Kelly who acted as a sort of visionary medium for him in the experiments they conducted. Through their own spiritual and psychological exploration they realized that reality is like an onion Ė one layer wrapped around the next Ė and that it was possible to peel each layer aside and peek at the one beneath. The more wisdom a person acquires through spiritual growth, the more layers of reality they would be able to peel back and understand. These levels were labeled ďaethyrsĒ, and there are thirty in all.  Each aethyr has a sort of guardian angel that embodies the wisdom and energy that is to be found on that particular level. The aethyrs are outside of us, theyíre what make up the universe, as we know it Ė but they are also inside of us. Theyíre the different levels of our own psyche or ďsoulĒ. At any rate almost all of my paintings representations of the guardian angels of different levels of reality.

AV: What kind of relief, if any do you get from creating art? 

DE: The relief I get from creating art is being able to express enthusiasm. It allows me to physically manifest intellectual and emotional currents that develop and grow inside of me. Itís a way of being able to show someone what love looks like, or sadness, or anything else.

AV: How do you acquire your art materials?  Do you have paintbrushes?  If not, then please tell us what you use.

DE: My materials are acquired from different places. Sometimes itís a pile of old magazines and a disposable razor, other times itís paints ordered from a prison-approved catalog. When I paint I donít like to use a brush, I prefer Q-tips cotton swabs. I donít plan on doing any more paintings; itís out of my system now. The paintings displayed at the show will be the last, I believe. Iíll keep going for a short while longer with the collages, but eventually Iíll exhaust them and move on to something else.

AV: How do you feel about your premiere art show in San Francisco?

DE: I am tremendously excited about the art show in San Francisco, almost as excited as If I were going to be there in person. Iíve been participating in all the planning and such, and there arenít many things ďout thereĒ which I get to have a hand in, so this is a pretty big deal for me. Iím hoping that the people who get to see it enjoy themselves even half as much as Iíve enjoyed working on it.

AV: What tools do you have access to creating your artwork? Where does the paper come from? Do you have canvas?  If not, then please tell us what you use.

DE: I donít have many tools when it comes to making an art project. I pick up bits and pieces where I can. Iíve traded comic books for a canvas, food for paint, an old AM/FM Walkman for a pad of art paper. Sometimes Iíve just painted on cardboard. I had to use Q-tips at first, because I had no brushes. Then, after I got brushes, I never used them because I had gotten used to using Q-tips.

AV:  How are you able to cut each individual piece you place on your collage paper? Does the prison provide you any tools?  If so, what are they?  (i.e. paper/scissors/etc..)

DE: The only thing the prison ever gave me was a disposable razor to shave with Ė and thatís what I use to cut out pieces for a collage. My fingertips were shredded for a month or so, until I started to develop calluses.  It takes a great deal of practice.  Just pick up a razor blade and try to cut out some small detail of a photo, and you realize itís a lot harder than it sounds. Iíve actually ruined pieces because my fingers bled on the paper, or I ended up getting blood on whatever image I was cutting out. It makes you become even more proud of and attached to the ones you manage to put together.

AV: With your drawings and paintings what tools do you use for these? 

DE: I have two pencils, which I draw with, and I use them sparingly, because there are no more once theyíre gone. I use a lot of saliva when I draw. I donít like clean lines in a drawing, so I lick my thumbs and use the wetness to smudge and smear the graphite. I like to cover the entire space with that smudgy grayness.

AV: What does your art mean to you? 

DE: Whatever art form Iím working at Ė painting, collage, sketching Ė the process is almost like automatic writing for me. I completely disappear and the project becomes what it wants to be. Hours will pass before I realize it. When itís over I can barely hold my eyes open, and my neck and back will be sore for a couple days afterwards. I absolutely cannot rest until the piece is complete, it wonít let me. It refuses to let me walk away until it comes out how it wants to come out. If art is not sentient, then thereís no point wasting time with it. I look at artwork as an energy current made visible.
 

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