Free Beauty by Darrell van Mastrigt

Free Beauty by Darrell van Mastrigt

Medium: Acrylic on canvas panel
Size: 8″ x 10″

Artist statement: Standing firm when the world around you has accepted the virus of popular culture is hard. Living a life of sacrifice, give-away and prayer is not an easy thing to do. Often it would be more convenient to be selfish. To think of ourselves first, to put off doing those things that will help our families, to just take one more drink or drug would be easy. But then I think of a morning in the woods. The sun streaking through the trees and leaves to illuminate the water and woods with an otherworldly feeling. The sudden feeling of wonderment and gratefulness to see such beauty. Makes you wonder if our Creator took the easy, selfish way in creating the beauty we live in. Such free beauty in the world strengthens me to stand against the easy, selfish, destructive virus of popular culture. I stand so that others can walk alongside me and build a nation of people walking a path of beauty. It is a hard thing to do at times, but it is very good and very fulfilling. Take a moment to be grateful for the beauty in your own back yard, the park, or any other beauty we are gifted with every day. It is free!

Image description (Alt Text): God rays of sunshine break through a pine forest to illuminate a mossy stream bed and a gurgling brook that dances down short waterfalls. Ferns and small shrubs line the bank of the shady brook. Acrylic on canvas panel.

Artist statement/bio: My definition of freedom is: The ability to see beauty in every person, every thing, and every situation you find yourself in each day. It is your choice to be in beauty, accept a part in making beauty, and end each day knowing you made the right choices to help those you love, those you encounter every day, and those still to come after you. Freedom is not free.

Making the right choices of sacrifice to help others, and yourself, create beauty is a hard thing to do. Letting go of hate, anger, bias, selfishness, destructiveness, depression and the virus of popular culture is required if you truly seek freedom. When I had just turned 18, society threw me away and almost succeeded in snuffing my spirit, taking my voice, and stopping me from seeing any beauty in the world or myself. I wanted to die because I was reacting to other people’s views being imposed upon me and letting them influence my actions.I had no idea who I was. Our justice system, while better than most, is blind to truth, fairness, innocence, compassion, or restoring balance to the people caught up in its machinations. doesn’t care about the victim’s needs or offender’s future actions. It leaves behind families from every walk of life that are torn apart and left to heal on their own (or not!) Thirty-five years later I know the true and honest reality. My family saved me. My friends saved me. My faith saved me.

And, most importantly, the beauty that surrounds us always saved me when I chose to see it and accept it. No matter where I am, that’s my true freedom. I am trying to free myself physically from prison through commutation. My confidence in that process is not very high. I received one vote at my last merit review hearing. But, taking any chance at being with my family and giving back even some of the love and support they’ve given me is better than no chance at all.

Much of my daily freedom comes literally from creating beauty others can enjoy, be inspired by, and share with others. The mural arts program I created at SCI-Fayette allows prison artists the opportunity to share their creativity, skill and vision of beauty with others. Our large projects cover the walls of the prison to convey hope and possible better futures and better relationships amongst the population. Some of our projects are community based and a way for “thrown-away” people to give back to their communities in a positive and good way. A way for the forgotten to be seen and heard through beauty. My personal work (paintings and cards) is freedom. I paint beauty to share with others. Most of what I paint I’ve never experienced.

Besides trips as a kid to Disneyworld, Niagara Falls, and Sea World in Ohio, I never left Pittsburgh before being locked up for life. Never even owned a driver’s license. So my freedom, my traveling, my observance of natural beauty is done through my paintings. I love to paint my desires, my hopes for a better future, my well wishes for others, my dreams and my heart. Beauty really does exist all around us when we choose to see it and be part of it. unbroken and free. Regardless of being locked in a cage, for decades, my spirit remains. My life has meaning for others in my actions and I choose to embrace any opportunity for good despite the likelihood that I will never be free of this physical prison. Freedom is about much more than just your physical environment.