Free Spirit by Darrell van Mastrigt

Free Spirit by Darrell van Mastrigt

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

Artist statement: By seeing and being part of the beauty in the world, we recognize our place in it. By keeping everything we do beautiful, we let the world know that the things we do are important. By taking the time to do things right, we give value not only to ourselves, but to the people we support. We feel good in a place that is taken care of. Whether that’s a natural place of beauty, or a place we create, we see that a good thing is happening. When we create beauty, we create the opportunity for the spirits to see that people are welcome, and worthy of their help. It might be easy to slap something together and have it work for a while, but in the end this is not a good way to do things. Nature’s beauty is not slapped together. It is designed.

So when we do something, it is important that it be done in a way that everyone who sees it will know that it was done well. The more beauty we create, the more we honor our ancestors, the spirits willing to help us, and our Creator. When we freely create beauty, we experience the freedom of being in beauty.

Image description (Alt Text) This acrylic on canvas panel portrays a young Native American man sitting on a boulder in the middle of a placid stream. A granite cliff rises to the left with a stand of pine trees at its base.The stream is clear to the rocky bottom and the far bank is covered in granite slabs.Rolling, pine studded hills are seen in the distance.

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.