“Time is your most valuable asset.”
Fulton Leroy Washington, known to all as Mr. Wash, will share his personal history through his paintings in a solo exhibition at Jeffrey Deitch Los Angeles. Mr. Wash was sentenced to life in prison on a drug charge and was incarcerated for twenty-one years until his sentence was commuted by President Obama. He taught himself to paint in prison, and is now a professional artist, creating public projects in addition to his studio practice. Mr. Wash was included in the 2020 version of the Hammer Museum’s Made in LA where he won the audience award.
The exhibition will include current works and a group of paintings made while Mr. Wash was incarcerated. The paintings made in prison show his increasing skill and reflect his faith and his resolve. He never gave up on his struggle to get his conviction reversed. Many of the prison paintings show his affection for his family and the pain of his not being there for them. Other paintings are meditations on the passage of time, featuring clocks and hourglasses. One of the paintings included in the show resulted in Mr. Wash being held for an extended period in solitary confinement. It depicts him fighting bloodhounds while being pursued by guards and their dogs in an imagined escape from the notorious federal prison in Leavenworth, where he was being held. The prison authorities had interpreted the painting as an escape plot.
Mr. Wash is known for an especially evocative image he created to express the sadness of prison life: a teardrop with the subject’s family or previous history meticulously painted inside the teardrop. The teardrop becomes a lens to see the subject’s innermost thoughts and emotions.
Many of the paintings feature self-portraits reflecting his determination and spiritual faith. Some of the self-portraits bear witness to the injustices that he has witnessed in both the prison system and American society.
The works exhibit an old master-like attention to detail. Working with a fine brush, Mr. Wash creates miniature narratives within his teardrops and inside the crevices of his compositions. The paintings can be bold and iconic from a distance, but viewed up close, they draw the viewer into the artist’s interior world.
Mr. Wash has expanded the art discourse through his work, his charismatic personality, and his remarkable story. His work shows the power of art to help one survive through challenging circumstances and to inform and inspire.
Image: Fulton Leroy Washington (Mr. Wash), Deteriorating, 2011, 24 x 36 inches, oil on canvas.