My father was a drug dealer in prison.
In the 80s and 90s and you could get away with quite a bit in the institutional environment.
He used to have drugs smuggled into him tied up in balloons. He would swallow the balloons and then dig the counter band out of his own shit later to sell or trade to the other inmates. When I figured out what was going on I was quite disgusted to imagine that somebody would actually go to such lengths to help quell their addiction.
Today I can readily empathize with the feeling of wading through my own shit.
When he was paroled the first time he had been in prison for about 8 years. I get the dates and times confused. It all blends together. He arrived on the front door step with only a few items in his possession. A garbage bag filled with miscellaneous prison odds and ends, a folder containing an assortment of paperwork related to his offenses and his release, and a huge painting of Jesus.
The thing was massive.
I was fascinated by it.
It was signed by the artist. His name was boldly painted in black under the title in the right hand lower corner.
The God Cry.
I needed that painting. To say it was intriguing doesn’t do it any justice.
It was so hideous it was beautiful.
At that time I was deep into my teen angst stage. Rebellion and horrendous art are a requirement for any angry teenager. As much as a necessity as mad dog 20/20 and led zeppelin.
He refused to give it up but he was happy I liked it and proceeded to tell me the story of the artist.
The guy was referred to as Maki and he was completely insane. He suffered from hallucinations and he was bi polar. He swore to anyone he spoke with that he was the reincarnation of Hitler. He painted all day, on any surface he could get his hands on. He painted on canvas and paper and shoeboxes. He painted on walls and doors. He painted on books and over posters. He avoided personal contact as much as possible. He talked to himself and screamed German in his sleep. He was prone to sudden, violent outbursts. Most of the inmates avoided him like black mold.
My dad loved him.
They made a trade.
The painting for some pot.
He never hung the painting up. Not in his cell and not at home. It collected dust in the front closet for a while. I used to open the closet and stare at it. After a few years the inevitable happened and my father was sent back to prison. He asked me to hang on to the painting for him. That was 15 years or so ago I guess. The painting has been through several different transitions. My dad will occasionally ask me about it. Checking in to see if I still have it. Reminding me that it is his. Screw that guy. I’m never giving it up. Even if he does survive long enough to be paroled again.
It is the kind of painting that people always ask about. It doesn’t match anything in the house. It is far from being aesthetically pleasing in any way.The colors are bright, bold and ugly. It looks like something only a religious zealot would covet.
It is one of the only things my father ever gave me besides his name.
I often wondered what Maki was thinking about when he painted it.
It makes me wonder of course about religion and saviors and God and redemption.
It makes me wonder why there are so many of us that that have suffered and continue to suffer in the clutches of abuse.
It makes me wonder how anyone can inflict continued suffering on others and not suffer in return for causing pain.
It makes me wonder if Maki knew something I am still struggling to figure out. About humanity and hurt and forgiveness and insanity and safety and evil.
If nothing else, at least I have one hell of a interesting painting.