FUTURE: THE CONCEPT OF JUSTICE
53x73cm, black fine point pen on paper
Click on the thumbnails to view full image
ABOUT THE WORK
In Gary's own words
For the Future: Concept of Justice I produced a large ink drawing of an open antique padlock.
Tally marks are stereotypically used by prisoners to log each passing day. The form of this padlock is created using 100 years worth, 36,524 in all.
To commemorate the centenary of The Magistrates' Association, this padlock has been unlocked and opened, confident that by the end of the next century there will be a new solution to imprisoning so many people.
Gary Mansfield discovered a talent for art whilst serving a 14 year prison sentence. After years of studying in his cell, he enrolled into a Fine Art (Hons) degree just prior to release. He has since collaborated with some of the UK's most respected artists, is the founder and host of The Ministry of Arts Podcast and regularly creates exhibitions in the charity sector. In 2019, Gary was invited onto the Board of Koestler Arts.
We had a short chat with Gary to get to know him better
What is your creative background? How did you start making art?
In school we had art class, but that was just an “easy class” it was one we messed about in. When I went to prison this guy was doing little landscape drawings in watercolour. To me they looked like they would take hours and hours, but they took 3 minutes. He taught me how to do those and that gave me a little interest in art in so far as I realised I could do something that looked OK.
When I went to HMP Swaleside I took an art class. The tutor was extraordinary, he kept showing me different ways to draw until there was one that clicked and that was it. As soon as I got the bug that was it - that was all I wanted to do. He gave me a bit of self-worth at a time when I felt like a failure in society and with my family. I wanted to give up on crime and he gave me a way out.
So were you quite prolific once you discovered that you can draw?
Oh, I was terrible! I fell in love with everything about art. He would give us little tasks to explore elements like complimentary colours or textures, but I went further and I would do a whole project so that I could understand it fully. I did all of it in my own time, in my cell. I’d spend a whole week trying all these different things. When I discovered the benefit of reading about art that was it too. I just kept reading and reading.
I discovered conceptual art and started writing letters to artists, and they would write back to me and me art books and catalogues. That’s how I kept discovering more and more.
I learnt about the Sensations exhibition, so I knew of Damien Hirst because of his chopped up animals, I knew of Tracey Emin because of her tent and I knew of Marcus Harvey because of the Myra Hindley painting. Other than that I didn’t know anyone else and I didn’t know if the people I was writing to were famous or not. Once I started reading the books I began to piece it together, and learn who is who in the contemporary conceptual art scene. I realised that I had been corresponding with all these A-Listers!
What do you think was the biggest impact of this correspondence?
Having this community was really meaningful, it gave me a shift away from the criminal world and into the art world. It changed my life! Before prison almost everyone I knew was a criminal - it was a community and a way of life. Once you get locked up, if you want to change your life you need to replace that void of community and for a lot of people that’s the hardest part. I made a really good friend in my art class - it was only two of us who really took it seriously, but he got out in a few months. Writing these letters and having people to discuss my passion with was really crucial.
What’s your creative process?
I usually have dozens of ideas at any one time, but only sometimes one of those ideas stays with me. I have a sketchbook full of ideas, I write all of them down. If I feel any of them are particularly good they go into the second sketchbook where I define them a bit more with drawings, research and studies. One of those would stay with me -if it’s relevant to my state of mind, a current interest or something that I have been thinking about. As I talk to my friends the idea gradually builds up, and I start to contemplate the best medium and format for how to express it. I see artworks almost like a problem that I am trying to solve - I come up with the idea and then I try to figure out how to best express it in 3D.
You use a lot of different mediums and approaches in your work. How would you define your practice?
I consider myself a conceptual artist and there are several themes that are present in all my work like time, identity and empathy. I let the ideas dictate the best medium. For my first projects I used existing artworks as found materials and I defaced or altered the pieces. That was the best way to express changing identity and the physicality of that theme.
Right now I am working on the time drawing series, which originally were supposed to be detailed pencil drawings of padlocks and barbed wire. As I was working on them I came up with the idea of tallies and it just clicked. I realised that was the best way for me to show the passing of time.
This series seems particularly relevant now during lockdown, what made you choose time as a subject?
I was thinking about the passing of time and how it’s not really respected in society - we don’t pay attention to time. My kids didn’t spend face to face time with their friends, and it’s something I wanted to focus on. I wanted to find a way to document how time passes, a slow boring and methodical process of logging time. Of course now everyone is paying attention to time, and it’s a big conversation because of the lockdown.
What role does art play in your life?
It’s about intentionality. I used to be so quick to jump into situations without thinking, just reacting on impulse (and my impulses were never good). Now I take time to pause and consider my words and actions, I think about the consequences. The process of creating art for me is the same - I pause, I consider all the options, I figure out the best way.
I don’t see myself as going to meditate when I do these drawings, but I do have to get into a certain zone. I put my headphones on, turn on a podcast and I get lost for a n hour or three. I’m gaining momentum with my art practice now, and I’ve left my job so I can focus on this full time.
Aside from making art and curating exhibitions, I have been fortunate enough to be invited on the Board of Trustees for Koestler Arts. That has been such a privilege! I went to a few prisons to do talks and workshops, and I got a letter from one attendee who enrolled in a college programme to do music after hearing me speak. That’s so incredible! I want to be able to do more work like that, have a real impact.