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Selections from a Prison Journal

"There are two histories, two potentials,
War--the worst in mankind, and Art--the best."

January, 1998

(This section, July 1997) Lord, after this last 10 years you'd think i'd be used to rotten-rules that have nothing to do with safety, health or kindness...but just are restrictive for the sake of it. This morning, along with Boss not being here, which is always confusing due to my habitual comfort with that office, my small hospital-type metal roll-away table was's what I draw on, it's what allows me the room/space to lay out a piece of paper larger than a letter-size page, it's what gives me solace...and it occupies the long hours. Bye-bye, it's gone...all my pencils/paper on the one asked, no one said anything, it was a swoop and grab. I'm a wreck....yes recently they've been infected with the politically correct position of being harsher on inmates, we're the identified enemy...and therefore not human. This has translated into cut-backs in the small but important items for personal use...our soap is counted as are t-shirts, books (we're allowed 5 total) pencils (2), towels (1), etc...and there's a daily search to ferret out offenders, malcontents, an extra pair of boxer shorts, extra toothbrushes...No one seems to have the ability to ask why...they just follow orders, rummaging through rooms in this mindless search. This morning i arrived back from seeing the medical staff to find my pencils and paper upon the floor...and after picking them up...pulled up a chair in preparation to sort through and found myself in tears...Damn. Such a little thing after all the others, a matter of minor inconvenience...yet it felt the straw-that-broke-and all i could think of was being hugged...Oh-well.

January, 1998

... Slept well, got my table back. How wonderfully quaint i've become, such a small thing...a cheap, wobbly, paint-peeling, flimsy, roll-around, tiny, table makes me happy. Last night, after over 6 months, it's back and i sat there, on my bed, on a pillow on my bed, table in front, smiling, doing nothing. Oh I got some papers out, i looked up some stuff in the dictionary, i adhered stamps and looked at the newest photos...but really all i did was have my table. I used to be able to keep it in my room...but that's a thing of the past, it now resides in a storage closet...but i can have it anytime the officer is around...which is all the damn time. T'is so nice, it gives me space, flat-space, something that's at a premium around here. I now can sit up and read/write/draw and think, can push it away, pull it closer, fold out the side leaves and make it's just the perfect height and i've had it 5 years, it's moi's little table. Gee, i'm so narrow as to see it as a prize, how sad, how wonderful. silly to be attached to material things and yet i am, now, instead of cars/houses/boats and all...i've reduced to this and feel just as thrilled...which only proves that it's not the things at all...but the act of feeling in possession. Actually, t'is good i see/understand, i'll never return to those days wherein possessions consumed me, i even know i'd draw without my table, sculpt without clay and write without this machine. Still and all a few things make a world of differences, i certainly don't aspire to the Buddha or the homeless sort. But not needing total comfort, a little goes a long way, i'd hope my expectations were able to raise a tad, food on a china plate, real tableware, real glass and, of course, a larger bed; the little things, a big difference.

February, 1998

Yesterday I got an old copy of Art Forum, in it was this article (which I wanted to, but didn't think I should read) in which the author said the only thing that makes art today is pain...either you show your suffering or you make the viewer proof that they're living. The only option is to risk, to expose, and to shock...and in many ways i agree. For me the problem is that it's all i've got...suffering, and so it has become boring. My work does not shock, does not expose...well it does indicate my rapture with women, but not my sense of loss. Plus/plus i just can't here, the regulations are too strict...too filled with limitations. So, when i look at what i've done it seems pale, not art at all...more craft. I'm depress-oed by this realization. I wonder if i have it in me...wonder if, given the options, what i could do...and wonder if it's important.

Does shock do it? Have we come to that point where it's the only valid emotion. If this is so then i'm unable...Yes i recall being there, doing that...with my life, all my life. Maybe it's only the youth that needs the roil of emotionality, or that we're so jaded as it's all we are capable of feeling nowadays...and i certainly liked pushing buttons...even think i'd still like it, blue hair and all. For moi i think salacious images rather than painful ones...then there's just plain weird images, abstracted and/or interesting shapes, this seems the other door, the 'less is more' school...but i don't like it either, what i want is personal and strong...but wonder if i fit.

February, 1998

A tale with bite and shiny ending. Last eve, while eating salad, bit down on something rock-hard, chip-ofied my molar, Ouch. T'was one of the ones that's been half-capped with gold, as my whole mouth is a prospector's dream motherload. So, this very early morn went up, through windy-rain, and stood in line for an appointment with DDS. Yeah i was antsy, the normal/average round here is extractions, any problem is solved by pulling...all problems are solved, that damn tooth will never hurt, chip, rot or decay again...'Pull-em-out', the motto of the bureau. And i must say that most of the guys have horrid and crooked/rotten-grey teeth, never took any care whatsoever, never afforded a dentist, their folks never afforded one, either (the best they did was buy them candy) so their teeth are, by about 30/35, gone-bad complete; lost in fights, falls, drunken brawls and car wrecks.

...all this swirled, bad-dream mindwise, lastnight, and at first light went up hesitantly, sat wet/soggy/nervous, focusing on my book, reading aobut nuclear waste and toxic dumps. Perfect. Was in the exam/chair by 9:00 and they said: "Umm, the whole tooth's weak, you're not brushing with a soft bristle, you've scratched away the material. It doesn't look good." Well, what could i say, i use the only brush they sell...So asked them to check it out...which she (yes, it's an arm of the Wave-Navy, and as such is staffed mostly by women, they are our medical facility). Anyway, she poked about and took me in for x-rays (wear this lead jacket, open wide, bite down on this, etc.) and in the process saw how much expensive glitter-work has been tossed down my pink orifice.

...later, in the chrome-recliner-torture-chair i lay back, i've spent so many hours in this position being gold-filled i'm used to it, the focus-light, the mouth nervously open, over-salivating, my hands inadvertently clamping on each other, grasping the chair arms, my pants...anything, everything...even as i tell myself to relax...and i've learned to let my mouth/head go hands/toes just can't remember, i become aware of gripping-fingers, tension-toes. So there i was with a youngish woman doctor about 6 inches away, holding my head, probing my tooth painfully...and of course she's in anti-AIDS gear complete, plastic shields, gloves, glasses, mask, sleeves and whatever else she had under her uniform...(god only knows she could be in full body armor). This one is a highly nervous type, talking to her assistant in the doctor-giving-lessons tone, not pretty by half, rather rough as she has seen too many to be kind/soft. And of course this is prison. She did say that I was an experienced patient, no complaints, no wiggles, no groans...and that was the nicest thing she uttered...while drilling, reaming, scraping and doing the excavation...and it felt like a D-9 rolling through at 60 mph.

...Oh, she did the tooth with that cute green stretch/rubber dam and the full metal treatment with the prongs and props, the clamps and spikes that poke, the tubes running in, the vacuum and water treatment (actually it sounds S&M and looked it, in the mirror). T'is a very interesting experience, this is only the third time in about 11 years i've been head-held, the other two were during teeth-cleaning, and it was never this personal. Pain is the most intimate personal invasive/encompassing sort of energy. One cannot help feeling the smallness of her hands, the rubber-gloved fingers, the unintentional intimacy, the softness of a breast while she peers so intently, grinding away my tooth., the whirl/whine and sucking sounds, the brightness and also the care/attention. This is sensual...laid out powerless, being pressed and pried, being done to...while working to allow it, to flow with and make it as easy as possible, moving together, breathing together...adjusting our bodies to each other's needs, the smells, metal/plastic/medical and the pain, finished with a bloody-cold-mouth-rinse and perfect filling. A perfect filling. Yes! back sitting here, the afterglow with numb tongue/lip and the ache beginning, the bruised and stretched mouth, i'm pleased, it keeps my mental on real rather than legal worries. Physical pain is so here-and-now, but god how i wish it were otherwise...or that the other things were, too.

October, 1998

Man-On-Earth: The Skylab Series. A number of years ago, maybe 8 or 9, i received a large format book, through NASA, of photographs taken by Skylab at 500 miles above Earth. These photos amazed, they fascinated and disturbed, and it's not that the colors were off, they are 'off' but just reversed, the vegetation red/pink (warm) and the rock/cement green (cool); no it's the complexity and detail, the ways the environment shifts and yet remains the same, this coupled with the immensity that dwarfs beyond my wildest. I can't take my eyes off these images and without natural borders it's hard to recognize them as anything but undulations, complex color patterns, strangely mesmerizing, like staring into fire.

Images, composites of the landmass without clouds, of river junctions, of cities, mountains, deserts, islands and the intersections of sea and land, these images in their strange, modern scientific color, these images are impossible and yet they stand, each complete, perfect, almost too perfect. They're so powerfully beautiful i couldn't do anything with them, they sat under a pile, pulled out when i considered color, shape, pattern. Too beautiful to use, i thought i'd reproduce them somehow, somewhere...but cannot, they're precious, icons to modern scientific process but also something i know about, although i can't find words to understand how.

As they drifted just under consciousness, i felt the only way to use them was to destroy them, to consume them within the drawings themselves, to somehow incorporate them as homage, a kind of worship-sacrifice. This series is a beatification in a minor key.

Using my older iconograms, the quatrefoil and images of self and/or women and hands, yet another quasi-religious idea i can't explain - it's just too obvious, i've gone color - something i thought, as a sculptor, was too surface/formless oriented. Well i was mistaken, or at least sensualized; even as i'm wrenching with these hues my eyes laugh.

The technical process is dextrous, they're jig-saw puzzled pieced together. To do this i first block off a xerox copy of an image, finding the lights against the darkness, these i trace around into fully connected, individual shapes. Then finding two Skylab images that somehow fit in either color or location, one for light, one for dark, i tape the three sheets together (two photos, one xerox) and then slice/cut them into their respective pieces. Turning them over i jig-saw fit them together, using small pieces of Scotch tape, forming a propinquity of barely noticeable irregularities that mirror the earth's surface. This i like.

Then, with these pages, the cut/taped changed and charged images, each with a face, a hand, an attitude, i lay out a drawing; my first consideration is how to now re-use the Earth, as i too am miles away. Usually i write a passage and then hand copy it onto the paper, then use a mirror to draw my hand/face and fit the framing edge with a quatrefoil, cut from the Skylab composite, glued down into place, to be drawn over when/if necessary.

The colors spring from my attempt to match space-colors and remove the responsibility of knowing how, by the process of coloring to the edges the colors flow and become, breaking the quatrefoil-shape, taking a life of their own, a life they eluded when they were so secretly photographed. From matching the hues and values at the cut edge, i scribble-bleed off into the neutral space then flip/juxtapose the artificially enhanced photos with some other image of interest, that hand or face, sometimes a recent sculpture.

The greasy nature of colored pencils allows a sort of blending when done on the gessoed paper but they don't take on the glossy photos, i therefore use Crayolas to mark over, enhancing/destroying, usually fixing the xerox-human image at the expense of the Earth...but of course that's symbolically impossible.

In the end, the final view, i'd like an enigma, no part of the drawing recognizable as anything but a total; strangely eye-catching, somewhat askew. i suppose i succeeded because i was asked to write this, hope it explains something...

(Click here to see the Skylab Series)


Selections from a Prison Journal









Stephen Dubov  82661-011
Federal Correctional Institution
P.O. Box 1010
Bastrop, Texas  78602