Art by incarcerated artist on exhibition at the Vanderelli Room

Dean Preston wants his paintings to be judged on their merit, and for himself to be judged as an artist first and foremost. Even he recognizes the difficulty in this — Preston has spent more than 20 years in prison for murder.

Alicia Jean Vanderelli met him in 2016 as part of a never-completed partnership project between artists on the inside and the outside. The two have remained in contact and she has encouraged his painting, something he began early in his incarceration.

Preston's work doesn't always directly reflect his life behind bars, nor does he believe he is offering any social commentary on the prison system. For Preston, the work is personal.

“I can rage on the canvas, scream and cry and do things to express myself. Then I can let the painting be the painting,” Preston said in a phone call from Marion Correctional Institution. “Rather than acting out feelings of hurt and frustration and anxiety, I put them on the canvas.”

“For a long time, I abdicated my own authority over my life and played the blame game,” Preston said. “If I can do this — be an artist — I can begin to pay a debt to society I know I have. I don't want to wait until I get out.”