Mark Loughney’s artistic production over the last several years has been inspired and prolific despite — or perhaps due to — the environment in which he creates.
The inmate at SCI Dallas has two exhibits opening this month. The first, titled “Pyrrhic Defeat: A Visual Study of Mass Incarceration,” will be previewed at 7 p.m. today at the Artworks Gallery in Scranton. The second, titled “Trophic Eggs,” opens May 18 at Arthaus Projects in Williamsport.
Loughney, a Dunmore native, is currently serving a sentence of 10 to 30 years for a fire he started in 2012 that injured several people. During his time at SCI Dallas, he has not only re-engaged his artistic passion but also used it as a vehicle for his own rehabilitation.
The artist first displayed work he produced in prison in October 2016 when he showed a series of musician portraits based on the concert photography of renowned photographer Jay Blakesberg at the Wonderstone Gallery in Dunmore, and he followed up in November of that year with an exhibit of his original surreal works at the Converge Gallery in Williamsport.
In an interview conducted via email, Loughney said he began doing quick graphite drawings of other men at SCI Dallas in 2014.
“I embarked on a portrait project to humanize my fellow inmates and to document my experience by drawing 20-minute sketches of guys here,” Loughney said. “Last year, I was introduced to Pyrrhic defeat theory and to mass incarceration, and my portrait project seemed to be the perfect match to be able to shed a visual light on the subject.”
In criminology, the Pyrrhic defeat theory — which derives its name from the term “Pyrrhic victory,” a victory that comes at such a high cost that it amounts to a loss — suggests that the criminal justice system fails to keep people away from crime and out of prisons, amounting to a victory for the prison industry and individuals in positions of power.
Loughney’s 250-piece exhibit will call attention to the fact that mass incarceration is as much an issue in Northeastern Pennsylvania as anywhere. According to an article published on the website of the Vera Institute of Justice, Lackawanna County has one of the highest jailing rates among counties in Pennsylvania and a higher rate than any county in New York, New Jersey or anywhere in New England.
“With these portraits, I feel like I’m able to put a face on the situation that our country is in,” Loughney said.
The preview show will welcome guest speakers Dr. Andrew Wilczak, of Wilkes University; Dr. Michael Jenkins, of the University of Scranton; and Jack Norton and Jasmine Heiss of the Very Institute to discuss issues surrounding the American criminal justice system, restorative justice and mass incarceration.
“Throughout the process of putting this exhibit together, I was conscious of the issue that’s even more pertinent than the subject of my installation: the victims of crime,” Loughney said. “It was very important for me to have a counterbalance of representation for crime victims also, so there will be opportunities at the gallery to facilitate donations to local victims’ groups.”
With “Trophic Eggs” Loughney has progressed his most personal, original work to its next stage of development.
Trophic eggs are unfertilized eggs that can be used as a food source for the hatched offspring of egg-laying species such as fish and ants.
“I had been carrying around in my mind a ton of aborted ideas that had not yet hatched, and I wasn’t sure if they were ever going to become fully-developed pieces … I got motivated to extract whatever nutritional value I could from my once-neglected ideas.”
Loughney’s work often features figures he calls botflies, which are based on real parasitic insects but have come to represent various elements in the artist’s personal life, from his incarceration to his transformation as a result of it.
Typically exercises in black and white, the “Trophic Eggs” series has taken on elements of reflective silver and gold and, in larger pieces, full color scheme.
Lougney’s “Things Are Looking Up Over Saint-Remy” depicts several of his botflies growing skyward against the backdrop of van Gogh’s “Starry Night,” which the famously tortured artist painted while in an asylum in the southern French province of Saint-Remy.
“I tried to send (van Gogh) an inter-dimensional message that, well, things are looking up for him,” Loughney said. “It got better. Even though he didn’t get to see it. His life and legacy really resound with me.”
Some works, he said, convey social commentary, while others, like “I Love You But I’m Not Coming Down,” present “obvious” metaphor for Loughney’s incarceration.
“The title helps to imply that I’m down in that pit, although I’m out of view,” he said. “A viewer will find all sorts of clues in each of these pieces, clues that will help them to read each piece as a story. There are 35 pieces in ‘Trophic Eggs,’ and although most are for thinkers, they are also really just fun to look at without having to unlock any weird code or anything.”
Reach Matt Mattei at 570-991-6651 or on Twitter @TimesLeaderMatt.