Tomorrow is My Birthday
'Let's talk of graves, of worms and epitaphs,
Make dust our paper and with rainy eyes
Write sorrow on the bosom of the earth.
Let's choose executors and talk of wills.'
Shakespeare, Richard II
The murder ballads of the southern states of the U.S. were the initial spark to creating ‘Tomorrow is My Birthday’. These folk songs are documents of happenings which might otherwise have been lost forever.
In backwoods communities where life had the effect of pulling inhabitants closer to earth on a daily basis, and with an outside society ambivalent to their poverty and plight (but setting the laws by which they should live by and ultimately judged by) these songs of murder and love and the resulting lynchings or executions paint a rich but disturbing portrait of the early days of ‘lawful’ capital punishment.
This collection seeks not to change the viewers mind on whether or not they agree with the death penalty - rather it is to consider the relevance of the arguments themselves.
Statistically - here are some numbers to consider:
· 65% of U.S. citizens support the Death Penalty
· Currently 2,000 people are on Death Row
· It is enforced almost exclusively in formerly slave-holding states
· Most executed are psychotic, alcoholic, drug addicts, or mentally unstable. Rarely people with money or prestige are convicted of capital punishment and hardly ever executed
· It costs 3 times as much to execute a prisoner (approx. 2.4 million dollars) as it does to keep someone in prison for their natural life.
· Of 1,222 executed since 1976, 1,010 where in southern states
· Average time spent on Death Row is 10.6 years
· David Lee Powell is longest ever on Death Row at 31 years. He was executed in 2010 for the murder of a policeman Ralph Ablanedo in 1978 in Huntsville Texas (all figures June 2012).
So since it is neither cost effective, nor a deterrent and questionably applied in the court of law, the only real measure is to look at whether it is retribution (the punishment they deserve), or whether revenge and vengeance are in the mix. If they are present, then this in turn debases any punishment with which it is associated.
In 1972 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Death Penalty was cruel and unusual punishment (torture), which was unconstitutional according to the 8th Amendment. U.S. Public opinion was that the methods employed, rather than the act itself, were wrong. Within 4 years the Supreme Court reversed the decision when a better way to bring about death was found in 1976. Enter lethal injection.
There are horror stories of failings during gassing, hanging, firing squad and lethal injections. There are miscarriages of justice where the innocent go to their death.
There are tragedies of those unfit to comprehend their own actions being judged fit to die.
Who will write these ballads? Who will write our ballads - of the richest most advanced country the earth has ever seen?
Where some of the figures are drawn and others are painted – this is to keep the viewer guessing who is the victim and who is the murderer. In DP1, if I was to say the man was the killer and the pretty young girl the unfortunate – then the viewer would more likely feel justification for the harshest punishment to be metered out.
However if the girl is in fact the perpetrator and the blood stain on the torn piece of her dress actually belongs to the older man – then we may find ourselves questioning her motive – perhaps she was being attacked and acted in self-defence. This natural response of rushing to defend the seemingly weak or vulnerable calls to question the idea of justice in the death penalty; if one sanctions it because of an urge to revenge, then it cannot be used in a case where the law must have an even playing field devoid of emotion.
The use of colour here – depression green and cream or pale mustard ochre is because of the corridors in all US prisons where the death penalty is carried out. Also in the past the floor on the way to the chamber would be painted in a similar green; its uneven application a reminder of the decaying state of these institutions and at the same time the minds of those who blindly advocate such an action.
DP 1, sold
58cm x 86cm, acrylic, aquarelle pencil, paper, ink & fabric on wood, framed
DP 3, sold
53cm x 58cm, acrylic, aquarelle pencil, paper & ink on wood, framed
DP 2, sold
53cm x 68cm, acrylic, aquarelle pencil, paper & ink on wood, framed
DP 6, sold
45cm x 60cm, acrylic, aquarelle pencil, paper & ink on wood, framed
DP 4, sold
52cm x 40cm, acrylic, paper & ink on wood, framed
DP 5, sold
59cm x 100cm, acrylic, paper & ink on wood, framed