Charles Manson never killed anyone, however he became the personification of what the devil would look like on earth. He was the boogieman, the monster under the bed, which snatches away kids like me. He was what a generation feared. After Jack, he was to North America the first murderer that captured the public eye. It was the first time TV flexed its muscle and showed us all the horror that was just outside our door, just down the street. It confirmed all the fears and prejudices that were carried for the longhaired drug-smoking hippies. It made a generation fearful and did it ever sell TV, and new papers and magazines!
In 1971, I was 12 and the world was just starting to take focus. I was living in north Saskatchewan in a small village called Choiceland. TV was limited to black and white and maybe one channel. The stories about Charles told on the playground, were fantastic and as gruesome as the teller could imagine mostly comprised of what they had heard from their parents and what ever they had seen on TV.
I can’t say I’ve spent much time thinking of Charles and his crimes over the years however he has always been there like Elvis, Marilyn, the Beatles, the Beach Boys and how many other icons of an era that I was not really a part of yet influenced my ever experience. He is a pop icon.
One afternoon I ‘stumbled’ upon a mug shot of Charles Manson taken in 2009. I was shocked when I realized who I was looking at.
There was the swastika tattoo but where was the devil. Where was the crazed man I had seen in photos? Ever time his parole came up the some blurb would pop up always accompanied with a photo of the mad man with the long hair and wild eyes as if to confirm our justification as a society to lock up a man for ever, to reassure us all that we were safe. HE was still behind bars and would remain so. We could all sleep well; the system works!
Now I am not in a position to comment on the prison system, or the US justice system. Whether he should stay where he is or be released, are not questions I have any right or knowledge to address. What I do find interesting is how after 39 years I still have only one or two images of the ‘most notorious convicted murderers in American history’!
The photo I assume taken by some officer is flat and yet inspired me to paint it. I wanted to paint it large, large enough to get lost in the road map of his face, to capture the wear of time. And I wanted the final canvas to hold the viewer, to stop them till they realized who they were looking at.
The final canvas was presented at a group show at the ROM on evening November 25th. I will post photos from that evening in the near future.