The Last Supper: 500 Final Meals of US Death Row Inmates
The Arts Center’s 50th Anniversary year started impressively with a solo exhibition by Julie Green. Green is an Associate Professor of Painting at Oregon State University, a nationally renowned artist and a recipient of the Joan Mitchell Painter and Sculptors Award.
Green has created an important body of work within her oeuvre: The Last Supper. 500 final meals of U.S death row inmates. This ongoing installation project currently consists of 500 plates depicting the last meal requests from death row inmates. Green started the series in the early 2000’s and intends to paint 50 plates annually until the death penalty is abolished.
Green sees the plates as a way to humanize the individual inmates, and as a commemoration for people unlikely to receive such recognition. Each plate tells a very personal story of the individual inmates, while the sheer number of meal requests in one room brings home the gravity of the subject matter. She uses cobalt blue mineral paint on found and vintage table ware. The blue has many refers to Chinese porcelain and Delftware, as well as more metaphorically “the blues” and “blue plate specials.” Green works with artist Antonia Acock, who advises her on technique and fires the plates for her.
The work responds to both a social issue that deserves and receives political attention (in Oregon’s Governor Kitzhaber feels the death penalty “fails to meet basic standards of justice”) and also addresses elements of creativity, aesthetics and craftsmanship in a beautifully accomplished complex art work.
The requested food displays a regional preference for certain foods, and gives an idea of ethnic backgrounds of inmates as well. As Green states* “when considering the humble requests, it is important to note that most states limit final meal expenses to twenty dollars. Some states, like Texas, further limit choices to foods found in the prison pantry. If you request steak in Texas, you get hamburger.” (Note: Texas did away with the last meal request altogether in 2011.)
The Arts Center received sponsorship assistance to publish a full color catalog of the 500 plates. The catalog will be for sale during the exhibit for an introductory price of $50 (after February 16, 2013 the price will go up). To purchase a catalog, please contact Hester Coucke and let her know a good time to contact you during the business week.
The exhibit starts January 8 and runs through February 16. Artist reception Friday, January 11, 5:30 – 7:30, and a Brown Bag Art Talk with Julie Green, Wednesday, January 23 at noon.
*Ceramics Monthly, September 2011