When Prison Art Met Graffiti 

C-Note "they call him the Billboard Banksy"

San Jose, CA - "Look Up!" an art exhibition by California prison artist C-Note in the heart of Silicon Valley features Incarceration Nation, America's Premier work of art on mass incarceration.

"Look Up!"

"Look Up!" is a journalistic term to describe works of art on Billboards. It is a new trending phenomenon in the art world, mostly from social justice works. According to the London Daily Post, Donald "C-Note" Hooker is the world's most prolific prisoner artist.

His 2017 work, Incarceration Nation is the first of four quarterly exhibitions in Silicon Valley. A new work will be installed during each of the four seasons, Fall of 2021 - Summer of 2022. Each new work will lead to a path towards the Santa Cruz Mountains.

These kinds of art installations are part of the latest trend in the Art World, known as "Look Up!" This series of "Look Up!" Art exhibitions are the brainchild of Cupertino High, San Jose State University grad, Paralegal, and Silicon Valley Fine Art and Real Estate Broker based in San Jose, Anna D. Smith.

Smith's inaugural Silicon Valley "Look Up!" The exhibition features Incarceration Nation, America's Premier work of art on mass incarceration. C-Note fashions these works with the imprimatur of British Graffiti artist Banksy. Not only did this exhibition spur a rally that addressed youth homelessness, parolee homelessness, education, and the lack of a cohesive response from local elected officials, but he hopes these other planned Silicon Valley "Look Ups!" spur the kinds of public viewing that his UK counterpart does.


The American Graffiti movement arose from the Graffiti being exhibited in its prisons and jails by the gangs. Darryl "Cornbread" McCray is known as the father of the American Graffiti movement in the 1970s. According to McCray, he acquired the nickname "Cornbread," while serving time in a Philadelphia juvenile prison. It was there he was taught and was instructed on Graffiti. He was also the only non-gang member allowed to strike his name, "Cornbread," on the prison walls. Upon his release, he and his Graffiti writing went on a tear. So much so, it travelled up north to New York.

According to Kool Herc, the father of Hip Hop, Graffiti writing was also a part of his August 11, 1973, "Back to School Jam," in New York City's Bronx. The event is referred to as Hip Hop's Big Bang moment. This event had on display, and was the catalyst in the recognition of Hip Hop as having elements. The four original artistic elements to Hip Hop are; DJing, also referred to as Turntablism; MCing, referred to as Rap; Graffiti, a visual art form; and B-boying; referred to as Dance.


Banksy is the pseudonym for a British Graffiti artist, who came on the scene in the 1990s. Banksy is a Graffiti purest, in that the spirit of a Graffiti artist, which is the defamation of property is a crime; and anonymity is a necessary part of being a Graffiti artist. His work is best appreciated for its social commentary. Some call it satire, but there is nothing satirical about being a homeless youth; A Very Banksy Christmas, Banksy, 2018; or the unfortunate political circumstance of having to join a resistance movement, Love is in the Air (Flower Thrower), Banksy, 2003; nor is forcing us to reexamine our notions of being a Superhero, like the kind you find in comics, but rather, the real Superheroes being the frontline workers during 9-11 and the COVID-19 pandemic, Game Changer, Banksy, 2021.

Silicon Valley

Silicon Valley is the Tech World's global capitol. This capitol is in Santa Clara County. Santa Clara County has the highest wealth Gap in the United States. Besides disparities in wealth, a 2020 University of San Jose State study found, 3% of employees are Black, and only 4.8% of Latinos are in executive positions. The research also found there were no Black women employed at 10 large high-tech companies.

This exhibition resulted in the creation of, A Better San Jose (ABSJ). Its mission statement states:

San Jose, California, also known as the heart or Crown Jewel of the Silicon Valley is a wonderful place to live and raise a family if you earn over 200k a year.

A Better San Jose consists of local individuals and organizations interested in improving the health and wellbeing of all of San Jose.

With the global upheaval of uncertainty caused by the coronavirus, and the United States being 4% of the world's population, but 25% of its prison population, this exhibition of America's Premier work of art on mass incarceration is extremely Timely.

"Prison art birthed Graffiti. Graffiti birthed Street art, it's legalized form. I see Prison art, Graffiti, and Street art as being three legs to the same stool," says C-Note. Apparently, Banksy agrees.

Create Escape, Banksy, 2021, HM Prison Reading, Berkshire, England. 

C-Note "they call him the Billboard Banksy"

The image in the photo is of Silicon Valley's inaugural "Look Up!" art exhibition which features prisoner artist C-Note's Incarceration Nation, America's Premier work of art on incarceration. The picture was taken using a special edition Keith Haring camera and film made by Polaroid. The photographer was Silicon Valley Fine Art and Real Estate Broker Anna D. Smith.



played a major role in the advancement of Hip Hop to become the global phenomenon we know it as today. He was part of the 1980s graffiti scene in New York City. His popularity grew from spontaneous chalk outlines of figures, dogs, and other stylized images on blank black advertising spaces in the underground New York City subways. His animated images have widely been recognized as a visual language.
Some of this work included sexual allusions that turned into social activism by using the images to advocate for safe sex and AIDS awareness. He died in 1990 from AIDS-related complications. In 2019, Haring was one of fifty American pioneers, trailblazers, and heroes to be inducted inthe inaugural National LGBTQ Wall of Honor within the Stonewall National Monument in New York City's Stonewall Inn.


is an American company best known for its instant film and cameras. The company was founded in 1937 by Edwin H. Land, to exploit the use of its Polaroid polarizing polymer. Land ran the company until 1981. Its peak employment was 21,000 in 1978, and its peak revenue was $3 billion in 1991.
Polaroid declared bankruptcy in 2001, and its brand and assets were sold off. In 2002, a new Polaroid was formed and went bankrupt in 2008. In 2017, the brand and intellectual property were acquired by the Impossible Project. The Impossible Project was renamed Polaroid Originals in 2017, and in 2020 was renamed to simply Polaroid.


in 2021, launched an exclusive collaboration featuring a Polaroid camera and instant film inspired by Haring's signature artwork. The camera is a throwback to when analogue cameras like Polaroid were the norm, and Haring primarily used the Polaroid camera to document the process of his murals, which took hours, days and sometimes weeks to create.


it is for those reasons this is no ordinary image on the web. It has two of the great Hip Hop visual artists, one from the 20th century out of New York, the other from the 21st century out of Los Angeles. Created from a vehicle that allowed the presentation of one's self expression, that in an earlier time, was the global phenomenon that Instagram is today, i.e. Polaroid. Now that's iconic.

C-Note on Haring

C-Note on Haring is a 2021 work of Wax on canvas. It was created to pay homage to his fellow artivist working in the underground art scene. Haring, who died of AIDS complications at 31 in 1990, established the Keith Haring Foundation. The foundation's mandate is to provide funding and imagery to AIDS organizations and children's programs. It also aims to expand the audience for Haring's work through exhibitions, publications, and the licensing of his images. After his death, the Contemporary Art World had become interested in Graffiti, and his Work has been given several international retrospectives.

For more information, see the Eventbrite link below:

EVENT: "Look Up!" Incarceration Nation

WHERE: 831 W. San Carlos Blvd, San Jose, CA 95126

WHEN: Oct. 18 - Nov. 17, 2021; 24-hours

Silicon Valley's Newest "Look Up!" Exhibition Tickets, Oct 18 - Nov 17, 24-hours | Eventbrite



Anna D. Smith

Fine Art and Real Estate Broker