Gary Harrell

Gary Harrell is an artist, entrepreneur, craftsman, and a harmonica blues musician. He was born in Spring Hill, Louisiana, and was raised in Orange County, California. He now resides in Sacramento, California with his wife.

Harrell began his practice in 1985 through the Arts in Corrections program at San Quentin Prison. Beginning with woodwork and molding glass and plastic, he later expanded into new media such as block prints and advanced techniques using pointillism. Harrell’s work has been included in several exhibitions, including Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration, at MoMA PS1; and Meet Us Quickly: Painting for Justice from Prison, at the Museum of the African Diaspora. His work has been shown at venues including the University of Derby, England; Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco; Art in Action Gallery, Flagstaff; Cooper Hewitt Museum, Smithsonian, New York; and Kala Art Institute, Berkeley, and has been featured in The Washington Post, among other publications.

Right of Return Project

Visions of Freedom

“My art comes from a wellspring of visions that I do not fully control or understand. Sometimes I am inspired by pictures, in the news or in a book, of recent or historical events. Most of the time, however, an image flashes in my mind. I might be on a walk or in the middle of a conversation when this image arrives, and I know I must use it so it does not go away. Even my most political art begins with an image, not a message. Hands Up, Don’t Shoot, about police brutality, began with an image of a boy raising his hands; Divas, about the strength of women, began with an image of childbirth. In producing each image, I have a practice of studying reference points. In what contexts has that image appeared? How have other artists represented it? Then I choose a medium that fits the image. For example, if I see many objects vying for attention, I tend to make a collage to accommodate them.”

Gary’s project will explore sculpture and other mediums to shift his focus from one of restriction and incarceration to freedom and liberation. In his own words, “For as long as I’ve been an artist, my voice has been that of an incarcerated man. My art has reflected the pain, the oppression, the isolation of being caged. This fellowship will help me discover my new artistic voice: the voice of freedom, of being formerly incarcerated, of trying to heal, of navigating a changed world.” Gary will work with system impacted youth and advocacy organizations in Sacramento, CA to facilitate art workshops to create communal visions of freedom.