Reed White received his BFA in illustration from College of Visual Arts in St Paul, MN. and a Master of Arts degree in painting from MNSU in Mankato, MN. White is currently an adjunct professor for the art department at MNSU.
I stumbled upon a collection of jail roster pictures online and was completely captivated by them. In these police mugshots, I saw such raw emotion; I had to paint them. These people and the mystery of their backstories fascinate me on so many levels. How did they end up there? When I look in their eyes, I see a person just like me. I see these mugshots as documentation of each person’s rock bottom.
I find the inmates’ reactions to being photographed intriguing; the cavalier inmate seems to be posing for a glamour shot or a selfie on Snapchat—it’s a photo op. Some look proud. Some are filled with rage or shame, while others are too high or drunk to comprehend their situation. To me, each painting is so much more than a portrait of a person. I am forced to think about the current state of racism, immigration, the justice system, mass incarceration, for-profit prisons, prohibition, legalization, addiction, mental illness, stupid mistakes, pure evil, and the divide between the privileged and the poor.
I am not publishing names or crimes, and a person’s likeness is not my concern. Shaming is not my intention. I am more interested in creating art; color combinations, brush marks, textures, and beautiful gooey layers of paint. I want to capture a person's soul in their eyes; I want to tell stories and raise questions. Most importantly, I love to paint portraits. Painting these mugshots has allowed me to tell stories about the good, the bad, and the ugly, and in doing so, contemplate our human story.