Notes: A fine example of Chicano prison art, an informal triptych finely drawn on three pieces of cloth depicting prison scenes connected by a repeating figure, probably a portrait of the artist.
The term paños, a Spanish word meaning "cloths", is probably a shortened form of pañuelos, or handkerchiefs. Paños, ball-point pen drawings on hemmed cloth squares, are the dominant form of Chicano prison art. The artists frequently use flexible ball-point pen refills and cloth squares sold at prison commissaries (to discourage inmates from tearing their sheets). Typical paños incorporate collages of stylized motifs involving fantasies of beautiful women, cars, and recreational drugs. This grouping has many allegorical elements but it is distinguished by seemingly realistic portraits of inmates and vignettes of a prison landscape. These three paños were acquired together and are likely by the same artist.
The recurring figure, possibly a self-portrait of the artist, is shown in horizontally-striped prison garb; in one paño his prison number is fully visible. In another, part of the number is visible, matching the first paño. In the third work, the uniform does not have a number but the figure seems to have the same dragon tattoos encircling his forearms. The first paño is signed "Pena 96."
In addition to traditional symbols like clowns (a smile-now, cry-later symbol), the temptations of women (here represented by what appears to be a repeated head-and-shoulders portrait of the same person), gambling (playing cards), and marijuana leaves, these paños depict aspects of prison life. There are strings of barbed wire, gun towers, rioting prisoners, the skulls of those serving life sentences, rows of solitary confinement (or perhaps Death Row) cells, and many portraits may be drawn from life.
Your cataloguer was not able to identify the place of origin of these paños based on the prisoner's ID number. In 1996, the same year as the date of the first paño, there was a riot at New Folsom Prison but that pitted Chicano and Black gangs, which does not seem to match the riot shown in the second artwork.
Each 14-1/2 by 14-1/2 inches.
Edition + Condition: Fine, clean examples.
Item No: #3098