With black hair and immaculate pin-stripe suit, Glynn Cartledge strode into the cavernous waiting room of the maximum-security prison in the remote desert area of Ely, Nevada to meet her new client. The “cop killer.” Edward. A 6’ 2” comely, Death Row inmate, he stood anxiously at attention beside one of the front cafeteria tables, anticipating the arrival. After pulling away from this stranger’s needy hug, with his inscrutable blue eyes beaming through a flat affect, he stared ahead. There he was. Cartledge’s innocent charge. The man she would represent for over twenty years and with whom she still communicates.

Edward and three others had faced the death penalty for the murder of a policeman. On the advice of trial counsel and without a plea agreement, Edward pleaded guilty to capital murder. Then, at his only hearing, his lawyer proceeded to tell the court that Edward was “a Judas Goat…who lured the victim, James Hoff to the scene of his death…[T]hese other boys were influenced and coerced and under the dominion and control of my client, [Edward]…” who “was yelling for his friends to stab Jim Hoff.” An artist who spent twenty-six years as a criminal attorney, Glynn’s artwork investigates varying facets of the United States criminal justice system. Her P2P portrait series is intended as an invitation to examine how our society treats the formerly incarcerated. In her studio she researches, reimagines, and creates to convey the difficult world of reentry. Her paintings, collages, oral histories and collected ephemera form the contextual series.

In reimagining the circumstances of those who have been incarcerated, she collaborates with the formerly incarcerated who model for the portraits, share their personal papers, legal documents and their family portraits, and let her record stories of their times in prison with mere glimpses of their lives before and after the crimes. Glynn paints in oils full body portraits as the models stand with arms extended while gazing placidly at the viewer – suspended in space and grounded only to imaginary stands, each portrait representing an upended life, changed forever by our system of judgment. She also paints them in ethereal settings surrounded by their personal environment.

Their oral histories, integral to the art both for what they convey and even more importantly, for the catharsis they gave to the storytellers, are inciteful renditions of arguments against mass incarceration. While recording these histories, the collaborators often cried – pausing the tape recorder -- and then sat afterwards and discussed how they felt with Glynn and her staff.  They felt listened to for the first time. Glynn also records sounds from and relative to the justice process and to incarceration. To expand the conversation further, Glynn gathers criminal documents and writings from her own files, and she collages jail and prison cells.

Glynn investigates the familiar inequities by deconstructing and coming to terms with utopian ideas of justice in the face of its continued, inevitable misinterpretation, manipulation, and all-to-often conspicuous absence. Her views on the failings of our justice system are not original; many share these concerns, but she hopes what she brings to the artwork is original in that it comes from a privileged standpoint with firsthand experience of working within that system. Having advocated for the accused in courtrooms, in the press, and prisons, she has witnessed the consistent manifestation of bigotry, classism, and hubris in place of service and that is what continues to motivate her work.

 

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