The text written on this piece (transcription below) gives insight into the essence of its meaning, although I should perhaps add a few things to the basic idea behind the painting. Thousands of people in the United States have been sentenced to death and thousands are currently on death row. Since 1976 through 2009, 1,228 have been executed and about 98% of them have willingly participated in their own execution. In the history of Texas death row only about 8% of the prisoners have engaged in any type of positive and productive activity—and I include individuals in this 8% who have participated in things like helping other guys out in various ways, perhaps writing anti-death penalty articles, educating others and other such things.
It is a very, very rare thing that a person on death row—and really prison in general—engages in true socio-political activism. The vast majority of people in prison are mainly concerned with gambling, sports, concocting schemes and running game and just general raw self-interest—a kind of fundamentalist self-interest bordering on Solipsism. This is, of course, a conditioned state of being. Take, for example, this unit I’m housed on. There are over 2,000 prisoners here. Not long ago we had much more communication with general population inmates. At one point I was housed two cells over from some g.p. guys. I was well in-tune with everything that went on out in general population.
I would always inquire if there were people out in the g.p. doing some of the things that I and a few others back here do (education, prisoner organizing, etc.). I’d get responses like: “What? Man, ain’t no-one doing anything like that on my whole building. Reading and shit? Are you crazy? It’s all about getting money, getting your hustle on, fuckin’ with some women. They had a dude couple of years back on the other building who was on that black shit, had all them Malcolm X books and M.L.K. books and shit, but no-one was trying to hear any of that bullshit and the laws ended up locking him up in Seg.” One of the reasons Kenneth, myself, Gabriel and Reg were always so effective is because we knew how to deal with people on a street level but, in turn, get them interested in psycho-socio-political matters. I, of course, still do my thing and Gabriel and Kenneth received Life sentences and they do their thing out in the g.p. Reg was executed last year but his spirit lives on.
This piece is, in part, to honor Reg and another fallen political activist, Emerson Rudd, but also to honor an ideal—to honor a philosophy of Life. One has to possess an unwavering strength of spirit and a deep righteousness of the Soul to be politically active in prison. And to actually engage in acts of civil disobedience? To face sergeants and lieutenants and majors and captains and wardens? To be assaulted with riot gas and be beaten by a riot team? To refuse to simply stand by in the face of injustice? Only a warrior, a true noble warrior, can do such things.
In high-stress situations a person’s true nature is revealed. Facing one’s own death is most certainly a very traumatic experience. On the day of Reg and Emerson’s execution they continued living righteously and they died with honor and dignity—they both protested their executions by committing an act of civil disobedience and making the riot team drag them to be murdered by the state. It should be understood that both Emerson and Reg were extremely well read and highly intelligent men and their last act of protest rested on a very firm in-depth philosophical, psychological, sociopolitical and even religious foundation.
The Canvas. Although upon first inspection one would never think that this is so, the canvas of this painting is actually a regular brown paper bag that I revolutionized with some nice creative Energy! I’ve written about this before: A canvas can be seen as an empty space, a vacant plane, inviting the artist to take the void and breathe life into it. But what about reinventing that static reality and seeing the canvas as a work of art in and of itself? Beyond the finite beginning and ending of the medium—stretching the perception past the work. The canvas itself can convey a powerful expression beyond mere texture and size.
Take, for example, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Gold Griot. The image of the griot, the African holy man/shaman/oral historian, is powerful—one might be struck by the way the colors dance on the form and think of the vibrant and colorful history of the African people. The way the griot’s body fades away can be seen as symbolic of the fact that the history and culture of African peoples is alive and ever-evolving in new and unexpected ways. But then you look at the canvas and see that it is made up of fence panels, and learn that Basquiat found these old unwanted pieces of a dilapidated fence and used them in a brilliantly creative manner. His use of this canvas takes the symbolism of this painting to another level.
What I’ve essentially done with the Canvas of The Book Of the Damned is make a type of scroll, similar to the Tibetan Thangka. It was quite a process. I took a regular paper sack and opened it up, then spent about an hour crumpling it up and then smoothing it out again. To get it nice and smooth I had to sit on my bunk and firmly press my feet down on the bag which was on my desk, then reach up under my desk and grab the end of the bag and pull it down over the sharp edge of my desk, while slowly sliding my feet. Yes, it looked as crazy as it sounds and I wouldn’t have been able to do it if I didn’t regularly practice my advanced Yoga poses.
Then, I taped the canvas down to my flat metal bunk and brushed thick homemade paint onto it. The bag began bubbling up so I quickly covered it with paint entirely and after it started to dry a bit I lifted up the taped edges and stretched the canvas and re-taped it and let it dry fully. It was a very delicate process. The actual painting was quite challenging as well—I had to be very careful to not allow the canvas to warp again. Another thing of interest about this painting is the red spots of paint in the rays emanating from the Ankh. If one looks closely they will see little red chips of plastic. They are pieces of exploded riot-gas projectile bullets I collected after the riot control semi-automatic assault rifle was used.
Music has always been a large part of my Life. Sometimes, the music I listen to while painting might influence my brush strokes or perhaps cause me to take a painting in a different direction. One particular piece of music that had a strong emotional impact on me was the score to the movie “Heroes” by the composer Tan Dun. The film score is definitely warrior music and Reg and Emerson are indeed warriors and should be honored as such.
A transcription of the text on the painting follows:
BOOK OF THE DAMNED
Come, hear tell a tale of Holy things—Corybantes chanting to Makaveli’s Hail Mary, a sweet solemn song of redemption. Behold! A sacred story of Triumph, a new Liber Novus, an evolution of righteousness leaping forth from the Belly of the Beast with a triumphant war cry: Honor Life! Soaring from the bottoms of the abyss with the wings of Phoenix. Carving out a path of Peace and Liberation: Love Life! I speak to you of secret things, hidden things, things that make Devils weep, and Angels rejoice. Beyond Good and Evil I speak to you of Truth as Light beyond death. Let two great bearers of the torches of Light enter your Consciousness and be present. Emerson Rudd, known as Young Lion came to earth August 9, 1970, left the Earth November 15, 2001. He lived and died as a warrior carving out a path of righteousness through the valleys of dread and despair. A young black male, a fig fallen from a tree bearing strange fruit. Product of a culture of hollow street dreams. Like the Apostle Paul a murderer—a cold unforgiving concrete cell his road to Damascus. Transformation: The Young Lion’s roar spoke of education and upliftment of Consciousness. He lived this righteous Life and seconds before the poisonous bite of Leviathan took his Life, thus he spoke: “I’m still warm from the pepper gas… tell all the brothers to keep their heads up.”
For those who possess the strength of will to listen, hear tell of a voice from beyond the reaches of madness and wrath, a rhythmic voice that speaks of Peace and Light: Reg Blanton, known as Omari Huduma, came to Mother Earth June 3, 1981, left the Earth October 27, 2009. Young man-child dancing the dangerous dance of a street-life connoisseur complete with Versace shades and glistening gold teeth. An unjust conviction and sentence. Baptized by the fire of oppression his spirit soared toward the Heights reaching out for the apex of the Pyramid and beyond. A young adept of the Siddha Yoga tradition—Truth became his staff, Peace his sword, Love his mantra. A political preacher, an esoteric teacher, and an architect of melodic verse. He subdued the demons of oppression with the righteous grip of his fist. It is written that a warrior, a true noble warrior, will prevail and conquer even when faced with death. Thus I testify what my eyes saw and my spirit witnessed: On his day of the great reckoning Omari made an even greater Reclamation—with steel resolve, he grasped fate with the steady claws of an eagle and he conquered death with an affirmation of Life. When the great Beast came he refused to submit to its twisted cowardly will. At the twilight of his existence, the dusk of his Life, he triumphed in his damnation. And upon dying thus he spoke to the living: “Stay strong, continue to fight”—an omen to the righteous and a curse upon the unjust!
From the thundercloud of Peaceful Coexistence hear the Lion’s mighty roar: Honor Life! Oh people! Look to the sky and let the gaze of your mind’s Eye rest upon the isle of the blessed and read Omari’s great command and indictment: Love Life! Let their warriors’ chant of Peace and Freedom be heard from the depths of the ocean to the heights of the sky! Against Plato—a new interpretation of Socrates! The implacable antithesis of Winston Smith! Against Schopenhauer! A battle-cry for a new evolution of the Life-Instinct! Young Lion and Omari Huduma—let their names be written upon the Consciousness of Humanity as sign and symbol: Fight for Life in all its forms, live for Love as the highest virtue, and be a Creator of Harmony and Peace! OM SHANTI OM.
Finis • Part • Prim
(End of part one in Latin)
“Know Thyself,” in Greek