By Erin Sherbert
By Erin Sherbert
By Leif Haven
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By Chris Roberts
By Kate Conger
By Brian Rinker
By Rachel Swan
I hope you are well and I hope to hear from you soon.
Thank you for your time and efforts, it is appreciated.
William A. Noguera"
While he didn't know it at the time, Noguera had found a home for his talents, an institute that would begin to work to champion his art. IFUC promotes artistic attempts to challenge and destabilize the status quo. By sponsoring subversive, or unpopular, artistic visions, the Institute hopes to alleviate the artist's need to cater to public opinion in order to make a living. Dedicated to restoring art to its inherently personal nature, rather than the repetitive products of many art-school graduates, IFUC intends to preserve diversity of opinion and richness of experience.
The Institute has a long history of seeing diamonds in the rough, incubating the careers of talented artists, even if they are in the shape of the mentally unstable, the condemned, or the socially dysfunctional. IFUC's associate director Cassandra Richardson describes the profile of the IFUC artist as someone who is struggling because no one else will give them a chance, someone whose artwork is in some way or shape out on the fringe.
IFUC's founder David Ferguson is no stranger to being out there. Decades ago, often working closely with Andy Warhol and his Factory of Superstars, Ferguson produced concerts for the likes of Iggy Pop, the Avengers, and the Cockettes (the theater troupe that produced outsider-legend Divine, and from which Alice Cooper and David Bowie drew influence).
"[Andy and I] had a little treaty that he would do the weirdos on the East Coast, and I would do the weirdos on the West Coast," Ferguson laughs.
Through his early punk-rock music label, CD Presents, Ferguson influenced the careers of musicians like Henry Rollins and the band Public Image. The growing influence of the punk-rock scene attracted artists from other genres, including the painter Jean-Michel Basquiat, who designed an album cover for the Offs (also on Ferguson's label) in 1984.
Working with "people who were challenging, controversial, and talented," over the years, Ferguson developed a knack for spotting and bringing to fame such artists as Courtney Love, Fat Mike of NOFX, and San Franciscan metal artist Dan Das Mann, whose large-scale sculpture of a mother and child towers along the Embarcadero.
Warhol's personal influence was far-reaching, and Ferguson remembers that, "it was just really nice that he was always willing to take people under his wing and help them with their careers."
The most famous example of Warhol's mentorship is of course the artist Basquiat, who was "just a graffiti kid," much like modern graffiti artist Barry McGee, who Ferguson mentored in the early stages of his career. Ferguson believes that Noguera deserves equal billing with these two great rebel iconoclasts.
"Andy was the kind of extremely radical person who really altered the way people saw reality, like Marcel Duchamp," Ferguson says, "but now they are both as mainstream as can be." Art that draws inspiration from Duchamp and Warhol isn't relevant anymore, Ferguson believes, so he's looking for artists who are. Artists like Noguera.
Noguera is currently undergoing an appeals process through his attorney Robert Bryan, who specializes in death penalty litigation. The former chairperson of the Washington-based National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, Bryan has also been the lead counsel for journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal since 2003.
"This is the challenge of my career," Ferguson says, "to break through all those assumptions about Noguera, to adequately show that someone can be decent with a story like that behind them."
In his part of San Quentin, the idea of rehabilitation is inconceivable; the men and women there are condemned to die, and there is no escape. Noguera has nothing to gain by being well behaved or productive, and wants to make it clear that his art is not about rehabilitation, or redemption. He does not want fame, or notoriety, as a "prison artist." He just makes art because he has to.
In a phone interview, Noguera says that as he sits down on his bucket and hunches over the bunk, he begins to lose himself in the images he brings from his inside to the outside world, and he begins to lose the fear of his surroundings.
"At that point, a door opens, and a child steps through. The man that I am today is just the vehicle to translate these things for that little boy."
Counting among his influences Picasso, C√©zanne, Raphael, Dali, Brice Marden, and Mark Roscoe, Noguera says, "I've looked on all of these works with an uneducated eye, the eye of a child. No one ever told me what their art should mean." Noguera believes it takes a lifetime for an artist to "figure out the way back to their childhood days, and to see the world through childlike eyes."
One of the only people on "the outside" who also visits Noguera inside the cell space he calls home and studio is Rev. Stephen Barber, SJ, a Jesuit Catholic priest whose ministry is the men (more than 650 of them) condemned to death at San Quentin.