The revival of cons

His art noticed the authorities. They offered to paint the walls of the prison canteen. Two years of work and drawing 30m long covers the entire history of California
San Quentin State Prison was opened in 1852 and is currently the oldest correctional facility in the state of California.

The gloomy ascetic decoration, the inhospitable inhabitants, who became famous for their brutal crimes throughout America, and the corresponding strict establishment regime. All this makes it clear that it is hardly possible to find something really attractive in such an institution. However, this is not quite true.

In 1951, 24-year-old Alfredo Santos hit the San-Quentin for selling drugs. In school, he attended art classes, until he was expelled for beating a teacher.

The acquired skills were useful to him in the dungeons, where Alfredo painted portraits of his fellow captors for the common currency in such places - cigarettes.

His artworks came into the view of his superiors, and he was asked to paint the walls of the prison canteen.The result of two years of work was a fresco 30m long. and over 3.5m high, the scenes depicted cover the entire history of California.

It is painted with diluted crude oil, the fresco depicts the history of California, from the desert to the mid-20th century. Indians and gold rush. agriculture, oil, Hollywood, aviation ..

For years, the fresco was not known to anyone except the prisoners and their warders.
Santos was conditionally released after serving four years and returned to Southern California where he found work: he painted caricatures of tourists at Disneyland. He later opened a gallery in San Diego. He worked feverishly, producing thousands of paintings and wooden sculptures in different styles with use of any of the materials that were on hand - broken glass, pieces of plastic, mahogany plaque, tiny pieces of driftwood, knocked together like a puzzle to create a three-dimensional scene. He created landscapes and portraits, abstract figures and nudes.
He did not tell anyone about his creation, ashamed of the prison past.

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In the mid-90s, local historians became interested in the artist’s personality, but no one remembered him.After years of searching, Santos was found, and in 2003 he was invited to prison as a visitor, where for the first time in half a century he saw his best work.
"It was very nice," said Santos. "There was a big buffet. I was a celebrity for one night."

Now the prison is a member of the art project of William James, the prisoners are taught painting, and the most talented students have the opportunity of early release.

San Quentin can be called the most unusual museum of fine art - in the hospital there is a fresco of the 40s depicting the Californian highway, and during maintenance repairs in one of the chambers under a layer of plaster the workers discovered a mini-reproduction of the Sistine Chapel of the last century.

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