Prison Art's Unparalleled Talent

Donald "C-Note" Hooker's talents as a prison artist is unparalleled with nearly 100 landscapes and other works done in wax, ink, digital, graphic, collage, murals, and billboards.

The most difficult thing for any artist is to get their name out there, but for the prisoner artist that is exceptionally challenging. Former Ohio prisoner Aimee Wissman tells of the horrors of being an artist behind bars, "All unauthorized and unaccounted materials-pencils, brushes, jewelry, electronics, even food-are considered contraband," she tells The Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage Magazine. "But when a broken, but cherished paintbrush was confiscated by a guard for fear that someone would use it for other, unapproved purposes, it had a lasting impact on my creative practice."

Author and Professor Nicole R. Fleetwood explains to Art News why it took her so long to complete her book, Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration:

"It took many years, and part of why it took so long was the logistics of getting access to certain things, especially people in more restrictive prisons. Many artists had their materials or their art confiscated, or they made art for a nonprofit and community service group while in prison and now have no idea where that art is circulated. For example, Tyra Patterson, who's friends with Russell and Jesse-she did a lot of art while she was in prison in Ohio, wrongfully convicted for 23 years, and she doesn't know where most of that art is because it became part of a larger circulation of prison art that benefits organizations. That kind of circulation doesn't always benefit the artist who produces the work."

This is why it is so noteworthy the kinds of works C-Note has been able to do, having already experienced everyone of those aforementioned hurdles. In "25 of Prison Art's Most Beautiful Women," C-Note is featured quite prominently, and deservingly so.

His 2009 work Colored Girl, of an unrevealed African American celebrity has been turned into a Andy Warhol digitally inspired work called Colored Girl Warholed. It is based on Andy Warhol's Four Marilyns. In the spring of 2015, prints of Colored Girl Warholed went on sale. In the fall of 2015, the auction house Christie's sold Warhol's Four Marilyns for $36 million.

In the winter of 2021, Colored Girl Warholed was the feature of a Billboard Art exhibition, Anna D. Smith's 'Look Up!' 2 Hope & Beauty Billboard Art Exhibition and Art Sale, Dec 27 - Jan 31, 2022.

The installation curated by Fine Art and Real Estate Broker Anna D. Smith took place in Santana Row, the premiere restaurants, residential, and retail in the Tech capital, Silicon Valley. The Billboard art installation served as an entrance into Santana Row, and allowed for one-million Billboard Art Exhibition daily views. Google, Facebook, and Apple workers live in Santana Row. Tesla has a showroom in Santana Row, and Sports teams stay at the Valencia Hotel in Santana Row.

The Billboard Art exhibition of Colored Girl Warholed was aerial filmed by a drone and turned into a five minute film short.

In 2021, C-Note created Paula Picassa, an Ink on paper work as a donation to Art for Redemption. Paula Picassa is a rendition of makeup artist Kabuki's fashion editorial in the September 2015 issue of Harper's Bazaar. Kabuki's editorial is called "Picasso's women." C-Note's drawing is based on Kabuki's selection of Picasso's 1938 work Bust of a woman.

Art for Redemption is a network of individuals seeking to connect and bridge friends, families, Prison Administrators, and other interested parties to create pathways of success from the "inside out" through art production.

Founded by ex-prisoner Buck Adams who believes there is a way to celebrate the artistic talent "inside" and to encourage financial accountability from the art producing inmates through the potential sale of their works towards paying restitution, child support, commissary, phone calls, J-Pay fees (institutional email), and even potentially be savings to support reintegration once released.

In August of 2021, Art For Redemption unveiled an interactive mural in the River North Art District (RiNO) in Denver, Colorado, United States. The mural included augmented-reality messages about mass incarceration accessible through an app. The unveiling also served as a fundraiser for a coffee-table book of inmate art, the launch of an NFT marketplace, and the expansion of the group's print-on-demand marketplace.

Paula Picassa was one of the prison artworks included in the mural; it is the cover artwork to the coffee-table book; and is featured in a video short on the Art for Redemption art prints.

Known as someone whose "art does not live on walls but in the streets," these are just two examples why "they call him the Billboard Banksy"; so named after UK social justice Graffiti artist Banksy.