Russell Craig

Russell Craig is a New York based artist whose work combines portraiture with deeply social and political themes. He is the co- founder of Right of Return USA, the first national fellowship dedicated to supporting formerly incarcerated artists. A self-taught artist who survived nearly a decade of incarceration after growing up in the foster care system, Craig creates art as a means to explore the experience of overcriminalized communities and reassert agency after a lifetime of institutional control.

His work is in the permanent collections of the Brooklyn Museum and the Studio Museum. His work has been shown at MoMA PS1, African American Museum in Philadelphia, Aperture Gallery, Malin Gallery, Martos Gallery, and HBO’s OG Experience. His work has garnered coverage in outlets including Artforum, ArtNews, ArtinAmerica, Philadelphia Inquirer, The Washington Post, Artsy, The Guardian, and The New York Times. He was selected for an Art For Justice Fellow in 2018 and Silver Arts Residency in 2022. He has also created numerous public art commissions with Mural Arts Philadelphia’s Restorative Justice Guild Program.

Craig’s Eval features fragmented portraits of Black Americans killed by police, their features visible only in the contours of blood spatter on canvas. The Rorschach-like forms refer to both the psychological evaluations that Craig underwent during a childhood in foster care and the juvenile justice system, and to the trauma stemming from the violence and overcriminalization experienced by many communities of color. His Self-portrait is painted on paperwork that the artist accumulated over the seven years he spent navigating Pennsylvania’s prison system. This includes sentencing paperwork for a drug conviction, legal documents from his parole hearing and documentation of his transition into a Philadelphia halfway house. Craig describes the composition as evoking “crosshairs,” placing himself in the middle to simultaneously symbolize how black men are being targeted by the system, but also how they overcome these oppressive systems.

Right of Return Project

Dark Reflections

Russell Craig created multiple works including a large-scale installation composed of leather bags created by currently incarcerated artists. Russell has dissembled the handmade pieces and reassembled them to create a large mural that was installed on the outside of the African American Museum in Philadelphia. The work featured a juvenile lifer who was recently released after serving 30 years. Russell parented with The Coalition to Abolish Death by Incarceration working to end Life Without Parole in Pennsylvania. Craig uses the latent language of materials, including prison documents, leather bags, blood, and designer clothing to highlight issues of white supremacy and the attendant tension between the fetishization of Black culture and devaluation of nonwhite features and bodies.