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M. Winston

An on-line drawing exhibition

April through June

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Portrait Society Gallery is pleased to present PSG on PAPER, an exhibition about drawing. Each week, the gallery presents the work of one artist. 

All of the work can be purchased on the website's Store (above in menu). We will porch deliver anywhere in the MIlwaukee area free of charge. 

Artists include: Emily Belknap, Melissa Cooke, Steve Burnham, Skully Gustafson (Week One), Pat Hidson (Week Three), Nykoli Koslow (Week Two), Ashley Lusietto, David Niec, Rosemary Ollison, Amy O'Neill, Mark Ottens, Nirmal Raja, Rafael Francisco Salas, Della Wells, M Winston, Christopher Wood. 


A recent letter from M. Winston

While all of us are experiencing a type of confinement during COVID-19, Wisconsin's prison populations are undergoing even tighter security measures to prevent the spread of the virus. 

M. Winston, a currently incarcerated artist, paints tiny landscapes of places he envisions or remembers. In the above letter he discusses recent changes in prison life: There are more restrictions on outdoor time, only 10 men can gather at one time in social areas, visitation has been suspended, and meals are restricted to bag lunches. The state has 19 correctional facilities and its website reports 13 cases of coronavirus out of a population of 22,642, with a total of 117 tests administered. Today's Journal Sentinel reports that more than 100 inmates in the House of Correction in Franklin have now tested positive, as well as 29 staff.


Winston, 55, who has six remaining years on his sentence, has made drawings and paintings since he was a child in Mississippi. As a form of meditation, Winston creates tiny paintings, most no larger than 2 by 2.5 inches. The small scale is partially out of necessity: If inmates make anything larger than 8 x 10 inches, they cannot keep it in their cell. The paintings are abstract but allude to places all over the world, providing a way for Winston to translate what he is thinking and imagining, and expand his prison life exponentially. 

M. Winston has for a number of years participated in Buddhist study groups that are offered at prisons around the state, coordinated by Tonen O’Connor of the Milwaukee Zen Center. 

“Art is what I feel," Winston wrote.  "It is deep in my soul. It’s my enlightenment and part of my Nirvana.”

Portrait Society introduced his work in an exhibition, Inside/Out, in 2019 and subsequently presented his work at the 2020 Outsider Art Fair in New York in January. Proceeds from the sale of the work go into an account for M. Winston upon his release. 



M. Winston, "Mississippi Old River Days," 2005.

Acrylic and watercolor, diptych, 2.25 x 4.5 in. unframed. $200

Each week we ask other artists in the show to comment about the featured artist's work.

Emily Belknap:
When someone, a loved one or a stranger, speaks to you in a quiet voice, often it is the softness itself that draws you in. That is how I felt the first time I approached these paintings at a Portrait Society Gallery show. Their diminutive scale beckoned me close. The use of color, jewel-like vibrancy combined with dimmer grays, and the scale help me to understand that these landscapes are memories. The brush marks are confined by the edges of the frame, perhaps in an antagonistic way (as the size of the brush seems proportionally too large to be comfortable on a canvas so small) and this too contributes to the sense that these landscapes are not necessarily lived in, but longed for and remembered. These qualities tie the paintings into the long tradition of landscape painting, in that the landscape represented is rarely a depiction of a real place, but a culture or individual's state of mind.

Christopher T Wood:
A little haiku for a little painting:

majestic vista
renders geologic time
safe in my pocket










M. Winston, "California 1, No. 1," 2018
2 x 2 in. Unframed $150

David Niec:
What immediately strikes me about M. Winston's pieces is the amount of activity and energy that is packed into a small size. Many of these one to four inch pieces reveal a landscape that feels very expansive. These pieces represent a view that seems to come in large part from within, by way of memory and personal expression. The choice of color strongly suggests a personal expression. Even at the small size, one gets a sense of gesture from the paint application. Given that these paintings were produced in a cell and the small size is a necessity, it could be said a lot of energy is coming from a very small space.

The feel for the paint as a material in these make me think of abstract expressionism and then they also remind me of some German Expressionism and the work of Emil Nolde in particular. There was a period where Nolde was forbidden to paint and in response he stashed away in a closet to produce a series of watercolors that he called the "Unpainted Pictures". I don't wish to make too much connection between work made in a cell and work made in a closet here but I do like to think about how being in a space removed from the rest of the world might affect the making of pictures. In many ways, one might be compelled to rely more on memory, imagination and personal expression. Color becomes a strong statement.












Rafael Francisco Salas:
What is it like to imagine a landscape from memory, knowing it is beyond our grasp to view? How does one romanticize place when it is out of reach? These ideas enter my mind when I look at Winston's minute but masterful paintings. They feel otherworldly and atmospheric. Sunsets create silhouettes that obscure details. Specifics are hard to gauge, as if seen through a distant veil. 

It is often the case that viewers eschew the biography of an artist from their artwork. They prefer the art to stand on its own.  If an artist is incarcerated this division becomes difficult to separate. At least I find this to be true with the work of M. Winston. The fact of Winston's incarceration becomes telling, very much a part of the journey of the artwork itself.  










M. Winston, "Northern Ireland No. 1," nd.
1 x 1 in. Unframed

Nirmal Raja:
Looking Out / Looking In
For many years,
I’ve circled
in a fish bowl,
under the panopticon.
While shrinking
A landscape on a postage stamp
Memories in color
Compacted and folded
Then pocketed

When I finally fly
Into the wide open
Will I find the world shrunken too?
As if seen by a bird in the sky
Except on the ground. 


Debra Brehmer: 
Peering into the window of M. Winston's postage-sized paintings, I sense one thing: Survival. With a dubious childhood and the burden of black male poverty and prejudice, Winston accesses far better worlds as he paints these abstract visions of place. They are like computer chips, little coded moments of exuberance, complete with the forces of geological heft, time immemorial. Big meets small: mountains, waterfalls, layers of atmosphere shrunk to the size of a ticket stub. The human spirit can be trampled but it can be indelible too. 


M. Winston, "Dawn at Yellowstone," 2009

2.25 x 1 in.

Unframed $150

m. Wison, old days, ruleville, Mississip

M. Winston, ""Old Days, Ruleville Mississippi," 2016.

Acrylic and watercolor on paper, 5.5 x 8 in. Framed to 10 x 13 in. $600

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