In Pen and Ink

They are unschooled, undisciplined, and often unpopular, but itís outsider artists like the convict who drew this who can sometimes shape mainstream culture

When asked about Noguera's status as a "prison artist," Barber says, "I'd challenge anyone to guess where William lives by looking at his art. I've never seen a piece of work of his that would give away the context in which it's created."

Listening to Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 is profoundly moving on its own, Barber reasons, and realizing that the great composer was deaf when he wrote it only intensifies the work.

"[Noguera's] work is incredible," says Dorka Keehn, whose radio show, Keehn on Art, broadcasts weekly throughout the Bay Area and on Air America Radio. "It's insane, the precision."

"I'm interested in the transformation he's going through as an artist," says Keehn. "I think there's some sort of release happening inside of him."

What first drew Keehn to Noguera's work is its angst; the internal struggle apparent especially in his dreamscapes. Unless the work is a portrait, Noguera's inspirations are his dreams. "All I ever see are images, like photographs," he says. And the resulting works are photo-realistic. Although the only work Noguera has showed so far has been pen-and-ink stippling, he's beginning to dabble in oil. Since first seeing some of Basquiat's work two years ago, Noguera has "been haunted by images of abstract colors. I can describe [his oil paintings] as extremely juicy. The colors are very metaphoric," he explains.

Noguera considers his art as a vehicle for his escape from Death Row, both figuratively and literally. Escaping from Death Row through his internal dream world and the process of putting it on paper, Noguera is also literally escaping, drop by drop. Each time he refills the ink chamber of his drafting pen, Noguera mixes in a few drops of his own blood.

"It's my little hysterical laugh," he says. "You put me in here, but when someone carries a work out, they're carrying a little part of me out."

Creepy, right? But it's sometimes the "weirdos" that change the way we think, and real creativity often comes from almost-crazy people under almost-impossible circumstances. The eccentric Van Gogh sold only one painting in his entire life, and although Warhol and Duchamp are some of the most emulated painters today, in their respective times they weren't exactly mainstream.

And although IFUC's founder describes "unpopular culture" as a term more referential to something outside of the mainstream than to something disliked, representing an artist on Death Row doesn't exactly make IFUC the most popular kid on the block.

"We find someone like William and attempt to influence culture with something that might seem pretty challenging," Ferguson says of his decision to represent Noguera. And if his history of influencing culture through punk rock is any indication — after all, what once was a rebellious youth movement that shocked mainstream culture is now a fashion statement, and bands like Green Day and Nirvana are the music of a generation — Noguera just might be the next big thing.

Try this at home: Map out a space on your living room floor, 4 feet by 10 feet, able to touch both walls with your arms. Now add a sink, a toilet, and a bed. Imagine being alone in there for more than two decades.

At Noguera's show in March, artist Francisco Recabarren of Blueprint Studios re-created a replica of Noguera's cell smack in the middle of the fancy Space Gallery, amid Noguera's well-lit works and formally dressed attendees milling about in black-and-white attire.

During the show, Noguera placed a collect call; the only call allowed out from San Quentin. There is a beep every 60 seconds, and just in case you might forget that your conversation with the condemned is being recorded, a man's voice lets you know every few minutes that Big Brother is really listening.

Addressing his audience through a speakerphone placed inside the re-created prison cell and later into Ferguson's mobile phone (which was passed around from guest to guest), Noguera chatted with the audience about his work.

Rev. Barber says of the event, "You could watch people react not only to the cell, but to the voice that was coming from that cell. It was oddly disjointed."

This piece of theater heightened the context. But why re-create a prison cell when Noguera desperately wants to be known not as a "prison artist" or in his words, "a drawing monkey in a cage," but as an artist through his own merit? Well, we don't listen to Beethoven's Ninth because it was made by a deaf guy; we listen to it because of its genius. And the merit of Noguera's art is only amplified when the viewer learns when and how it was created.

Barber attended Noguera's show not only to see Noguera's work in a well-lit, professional setting, but to speak with those who are interested about the man who created it. People wondered: What is it that keeps people going when they're sitting in a cell all day long? How do they maintain their personal integrity and their mental health?

Barber believes Noguera keeps sane through creating art, and IFUC supports him.

"William is the ultimate challenge of calling us on our rhetoric," Ferguson says. "There's nothing easy about that one."

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