Before he went to prison, Mark Loughney used watercolors and acrylics to create bright, playful portraits of his favorite musicians. His early work features Trey Anastasio and Grace Potter and Snoop Dogg, all smiling and content, deep into their guitars and joints. But then Loughney committed a crime that even now, years later, he can barely explain.
In 2012, when he was thirty-five and struggling to make it as an artist, Loughney got into a fight with residents of an apartment building. According to the police, he returned with a gasoline container and set the building on fire, sending multiple people to the hospital. It was big news in Dunmore, Pennsylvania, where Loughney was raised and where his father was serving a term as mayor. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a minimum of ten years in prison. At sentencing, his lawyer brought up the role of alcohol. But Loughney still has difficulty comprehending his own actions. “It wasn’t as if I was in the midst of an addiction or dealing with clinical anger … It was a fight gone bad,” he wrote in a recent message from the State Correctional Institution at Dallas, thirty miles southwest of his hometown. “The main point I hope you can make for me is that I am very remorseful and contrite for what I did. I don’t often get the opportunity to express my remorse or apologies and I would really like to be able to do that in a public forum.”
After Loughney entered prison, his partner left him, and at times he felt catatonic. But listening to an interview with the Australian painter Johnny Romeo on the radio inspired him to return to his passion. “By the end of his interview, I was on my feet, in my cell, working,” he wrote. “I’m able now to actually understand how fragile and fleeting life is.” To make sense of his new surroundings, he began to draw what was around him, but instead of depicting the bars and razor wire, he focused on the people. Read More