Death Row Artist William Noguera – Visions From the Pen(itentiary)

Artistic expression has meant salvation for William Noguera, a San Quentin resident and current California Death Row inmate who creates thought-provoking, critically-acclaimed pen & ink drawings from his 4’x10′ cell. Imprisoned since 1983, William Noguera’s story is that of a man who has found a way to keep hope alive in the face of injustice, brutality, and unjust incarceration.

Noguera sits on California’s Death Row for the death of his former girlfriend’s mother. He currently awaits the results of double-decade long appeals process; his case and conviction have been called by many, “a travesty of justice.”

During his first year in prison, and an enforced 27-day straight stay in solitary confinement, Noguera began drawing on the walls of his cell. Since then, unschooled and untrained, he’s continued to create art in a pointillist style which he describes as “monochromatic neo-cubism in ink stippling.” Hundreds of thousands of individual dots are placed, evincing images of startling reality; each piece requires 3-6 months for completion.

In 2008, Noguera told the San Francisco Chronicle, “Art is not a luxury for me, it’s a necessity . . . as soon as I pick up the pen, I’m gone from this place. Art gives me the freedom I crave. The only thing I have is my imagination. Art for me is about childhood, going back to when things were simple and innocent. The man before you is just a vehicle for that little boy.” At times, he’s driven to work for up to 12 hours a day, this, his only way to function in a world surrounded by rapists, murderers, and child molesters. He is still paying a debt some 25 years later for a brief moment of teenage rage.

Often, those condemned to death find religion as a comfort, but William has found his salvation in art-a monk-like routine that keeps him far-removed from crime, drugs, and gang-affiliation, common plagues of penitentiary life. Each carefully placed drop of ink transports him to another time and place, a reminder of the boy he was in the free world, and the man he has become.

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