A House, a Home

M. Winston’s miniature


by Kate Mothes

Made from found paper, packaging, and paint, M. Winston’s vibrant house sculptures resonate with the need for spaces of safety, comfort, and a sense of belonging. This human connection to shelter, and the myriad ways it manifests as spaces not only of security or privacy but of personal expression, carries a significant weight for the artist, who has been incarcerated within the Wisconsin Department of Corrections system for more than two decades. Now in his late 50s and with about three years left on his sentence, his meditative approach to art-making has helped him to survive almost half a life in confinement, highlighting the significant role of art in enduring complex and challenging circumstances.

Tapping into a pastime he enjoyed while growing up in Mississippi, Winston makes small paintings, usually around two to two-and-a-half inches—anything larger than 8 x 10 cannot be kept in the cell—as a means of connecting with the world outside. Mostly abstract, they allude to places and travels, and provide focus and a source of calm that extends from his affiliation with Buddhism. “I store five to seven paintings in my head every day,” Winston says. “My way of painting small helps me make room for what’s to come.”

In his series of small sculptures, which when assembled are typically no larger than 12 inches on the longest side, Winston combines paper, toothpicks, food boxes, beads, and other everyday items into the angular forms of residential architecture. Whether a single structure or a series of tiny buildings, some reference Milwaukee vernacular and landmarks while others extend a geographic reach to other parts of the U.S., and they often reference cultural traditions like NFL teams or local museums.

Winston’s work has been shown at Outsider Art Fair in New York City, and is currently part of Art Against the Odds, an exhibition of artwork by artists incarcerated within the Wisconsin prison system, which opened at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design in early 2023 and travels to the Rahr West Museum in Manitowoc, on view through August 8.

Find more on the Portrait Society Gallery’s website.

Mississippi Diamond 1971/72, 2022. Acrylic paint, broom bristles, paper, and cardboard, 3 x 6 x 4.5 inches
Untitled (Oatmeal Box House), 2022. Acrylic paint, paper, beads, collaged food boxes, and cardboard, 4 x 7.5 x 6 inches
Somewhere in Milwaukee, 2022. Acrylic paint, paper, collaged food boxes, and cardboard, 2 x 7 x 8.5 inches
Untitled (Long House), n.d. Acrylic paint, beads, toothpicks, paper, and cardboard, 6 x 12 x 5 inches
Installation view of small houses, including the 'Names Collection,' featuring accompanying small paintings
Untitled (Modern House), 2022. Acrylic paint, gravel, paper, and cardboard, 5 x 7.5 x 7.5 inches
Long From Home

All images © M. Winston, courtesy of Portrait Society Gallery, Milwaukee.

Header image: Untitled (Landscape House), 2022. Acrylic paint, paper, and cardboard, 5 x 7.5 x 7.5 inches

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