I was in prison and He visited me

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Maximum security inmates in central west NSW create stunning chapel artwork.

“The Ascension of Christ” painting and frame, created by inmates at Macquarie Correctional Centre. Photo: Corrective Services NSW.

Prisons are generally not known as places to find beauty, but that all depends on where you look, says Fran Schubert.

The Catholic chaplain at Macquarie Correctional Centre, a maximum-security facility for male offenders 50kms from Dubbo in the Diocese of Bathurst, says she often finds beauty in the faith of some inmate’s hearts….or else up on the ceiling.

One inmate has painted a version of Christ’s ascension into heaven, inspired by religious masterpieces such as Michelangelo’s Sistine chapel paintings and his “strong faith”.

From the perspective of the heavens it shows Our Lord rising up from earth with his cross, wreathed in clouds as angels wait to exchange his crown of thorns with a gold crown of glory.

“One inmate has painted a version of christ’s ascension into heaven, inspired by religious masterpieces such as michelangelo’s sistine chapel paintings”.

Another inmate fashioned an intricately-detailed gilded frame to match. Now the two-metre, 98-kilogram artwork adorns the prison chapel ceiling, amazing everyone who sees it for the first time.

The painter says he has been a hobby artist for most of his life, and that now at 62 he has taken it to a professional level in the last three years.

“From a young age I was intrigued by magnificent religious artworks like the Sistine Chapel,” he told The Catholic Weekly.

The finished artwork “The Ascension of Christ” painting and frame being installed in the multi-faith chapel at Macquarie Correctional Centre. Photo: Corrective Services NSW.

“I’ve always dreamed of painting a church ceiling and when given the opportunity here, I took it. I have a strong faith and saw it as a challenge and duty to other believers to make our house of prayer beautiful.

“When arranging the composition I decided to show Christ rising up to heavens from earth simply because I was unaware of any other artist painting him that way. It turns out Salvadore Dali did just that, 70 years ago.

“I’ve always dreamed of painting a church ceiling and when given the opportunity here, i took it..as a challenge and duty to other believers to make our house of prayer beautiful”.

“I was careful to avert Christ’s eyes from the viewer ever so slightly so as not to infer that we are gods.” According to Corrective Services NSW, art behind bars provides many inmates across the state’s prisons with a creative outlet, a constructive use of free time, the potential to earn some money for items such as art supplies, extra food and toiletries and the opportunity to develop skills they can use upon release. “The opportunity that Macquarie Correctional Centre provides for inmates to enhance their healing and rehabilitation is evident in many various ways,” said Ms Schubert.

“Many of our men did not know that they could paint before entering Macquarie, where, here, they are encouraged and supported to express their inner most values and emotions.

“It is inspiring to witness their spiritual and emotional healing and growth.”

The painter of ‘The Ascension of Christ’ is inspired by Renaissance artists such as El Greco, Peter Paul Rubens and Guiseppe Cesari and spent about 100 hours over 18 months to complete his masterpiece.

“The most joy I get from this work is when new worshippers walk in to the chapel and look up for the first time. That look makes it all worthwhile,” he said.

“I always thank God for blessing me with a useful skill.”

The artist who crafted the frame said his influences include the work of Leonardo Da Vinci, Alberto Giacometti, Edvard Munch and William Blake.

“Designing a frame is essentially the same process as painting; research, design and build,” he said. “The finished frame really sets off the painting of Christ and lifts the whole chapel.”

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