Local artist Crites has been painting mug shots of criminals on brown paper bags since 1999. Using vivid acrylic colors with a Pop Art finesse, his slumped sullen figures share the rumples of the low-budget canvas. "The way the wrinkles, folds, and texture added to a piece really appealed to me," he says. "The main focus of my work has been anonymous mug shots from the 1890s to 1950s. A lot of them are petty criminals [who did] small things like stealing a coat, or a bike, or $5 from someone. I am fascinated by history, and the clothing, the expressions these people wear. There is so much of a story behind each one, and we may never know what it really is." But in his latest series of brown-bag mug shots, "I Was Proud of My Crime," the "criminals" include Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks, arrested for their civil protest during the 1956 Montgomery bus boycott. "After Rosa Parks' death, a Montgomery, Ala., deputy apparently 'found' all of the boycott arrest booking photos in storage," explains Crites. "There had been 156 arrests. Once I saw these photos, I really wanted to do this series. The fact that these men and women were arrested and booked for standing up for their civil rights only 50 years ago got me thinking about where our rights, or especially those of foreigners in our country, stand today. My father was active in the civil rights movement in Missouri in the 1950s and 1960s, and I did not know a great deal about much that happened. I wanted to do a series that would hopefully get people to think about our country's racist history and think about how much we all stand to lose." In presenting civil rights heroes this way, Crites melds theme and medium perfectly. There's something both wrong and powerfully affecting in seeing noble figures depicted in such an ignoble setting—mistreated, one could say, both historically and artistically. Yet Crites is, in fact, honoring these people in an art form that is both accessible and, ironically,
A full-length, Web-only interview with brown paper artist Chris Crites.
respectful (see full interview). Joe Bar, 810 E. Roy St., 206-324-0407, www.joebar.org. 7:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 8:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Sat.-Sun. Ends June 30.