How a Compton artist’s painting of the lost prison found its way to the Hammer Museum
When Fulton leroy Washington, 66, started painting in prison, he never imagined that his work would one day be exhibited in a renowned art museum. But Washington’s talent made room for it, and now artist Compton’s painting of the lost prison – and a replica of it – is on display in two separate museums.
Known affectionately as Mr. Wash, Washington painted about 75 works a year while serving a 20-year sentence for non-violent drug offenses of which he maintains he is innocent. According to Los Angeles Times, Washington’s sentence was commuted by the president Barack obama in 2016 and he lives and artistic creation to Compton while trying to prove his innocence.
Of all his works, however, a painting known as “Mondaine’s Market” – which he created for a fellow inmate named John Mondaine in order to capture his legacy – is particularly special. The work depicts Mondaine, with her grandson, like heads floating above the store he once owned.
“He wanted a painting describing his heritage,” Washington said at the LA Times request of Mondaine. “He came to me and told me he wanted a picture of the store. He thought he was probably going to die in prison, and he wanted to be in the sky, surrounded by clouds, with his family.
The details of the painting are intricate and impressive, according to Hammer Museum curators Lauren Mackler and Myriam Ben Salah.
“He’s a really gifted painter with a unique sense of composition,” Mackler said. “But the level of detail in this particular painting, personifying and animating the characters and the architecture, was really exciting. There are worlds within worlds in Mondaine’s painting.
The duo saw the Compton artist’s portrait online and wanted him for the show. However, there was a problem. Washington had lost track of the painting and could not find it. So Mackler and Salah asked him to recreate it.
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While he initially said no because of the detail in the original, Washington decided he would make an attempt.
“But trying to paint a complex picture like this from a photograph?” Washington said. “The details were super small. First I said, ‘No.’ Two or three times. Then, finally: “OK, I’ll try. “
This time, he decided to make it taller and bolder on a four-by-five foot canvas. “I had never had the opportunity to paint in oils this great before, it was an opportunity,” Washington said. “But to make it a bigger picture, it took new techniques – the thickness of the paint, the precision of the brushes, the time the paint takes to dry. I still painted with the same brushes I painted in prison, but it was harder. There were new decisions.
While Washington was working on the replica, he eventually tracked down Mondaine in Kansas City, Missouri and was able to get the original. He noticed distinctions between the two pieces but was proud of his accomplishment in reproducing them. He also felt “strangely melancholy” wondering if he gave each room the same care and attention.
“It made me question myself,” Washington said. “Are the energies of the paintings equal in terms of detail, depth, duration? “
Washington’s questions, however, did not prevent both the Hammer museum and Huntington to display the original and replica of Mondaine’s Marketplace, respectively.
It is an accomplishment that Washington does not take lightly or for granted.
“You get a second chance on some things,” Washington told the LA Times. “He was one of them. A chance to do things differently. It’s positive. I feel so blessed. “