Justice Distorted: The Todd Newmiller Series
This painting series was motivated by the incarceration of Todd Newmiller in 2008 for murder; Todd’s father is a colleague, so the story hit home in a personal way. Over several years, over several appeals, the improper handling of evidence and the unregulated forensics labs have been issues, although Todd’s verdict hasn’t been overturned. I expressed my reactions to the case in over 25 acrylic paintings.
Jacob Lawrence’s series, The Migration of the Negro, from the 1940s, inspired most of the compositions which include stark geometric shapes and patterns contrasting with figurative images. Bright, exuberant coloration belies the more serious undertones and sardonic wit of the works. The metallic surface of the paper adds unique angles and edges too. Gestalt principles of perception and camouflage techniques push and pull the surface tension in each artwork. Like Lawrence’s paintings, compositions are fragmented in a tableau style and images aren’t represented in traditional linear perspective.
Artist Ben Shahn is perhaps most famous for his painting series that covered the trial and condemnation of Sacco and Vanzetti in the early 1930s. The Passion of Sacco and Vanzetti pictures the judge in the central position flanked by two prosecutors holding lilies. In the immediate foreground are two caskets holding the condemned men. The background very simply portrays classical columns and architecture. Shahn was an expert at abbreviating and telling stories with an economy of line and detail, inspiring me to do the same.
Images are culled from a variety of sources. From his cell, Todd provided me with sketches and drawings and Todd’s stained glass sculptures feature prominently in several works. Excerpts from his blog writings in prison, “I am Ahab,” and documentation and evidence presented during the trials provided me with raw material; even Todd’s signature was used.
Two large pieces are painted on flattened bandsaw sanding belts. “Nothing to Say” is a satirical look at the family visits in the prison. Whiling away hours, they draw and doodle, covering pages with funny cartoons. My translation shows empty pages and no hands holding tools capable of making any marks.
Several high-profile cases in the past years have shown that wrongful incarceration is an injustice in the U.S. prison system that is not easily resolved. My works express feelings about the specific case and general topics of injustice, flawed process, and families destroyed. “Justice Distorted” is one small scream from a dark cell.
– Pam Chadick-Aloisa