Twenty-two years after being imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit, Damien Echols is transforming the horror of his wrongful conviction into captivating, esoterica-inspired artwork.
Now, as part of a three-man art show based thematically on the Salem Witch Trials, Echols is bringing his explorations of darkness and magic to Los Angeles’ Copro Gallery in an homage to the craft that helped him maintain his sanity throughout his time on death row.
“When you’re life is a living hell and you have to watch your back 24 hours a day to make sure nothing will harm you, any feeling of protection serves a purpose,” Echols told The Huffington Post in a recent interview. “I remember loving to draw and paint as far back as kindergarten, but I think I started taking it seriously about eight or nine years into my prison sentence. It helped me cope.”
Damien Echols became a household name in 1993 when he was wrongly charged, along with Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, of killing three boys in West Memphis, Arkansas, in a case that was rife with rumors of satanic rituals and esoteric practices associated with Magick – a practice tied to occult worship.
Misskelley ultimately confessed to the crime after a 12-hour interrogation, implicating Echols and Baldwin, though his statements did not correspond with the evidence. Echols was subsequently sentenced to death, and the other two were sentenced to life. Known to the media and the public as the West Memphis Three, their story has since attracted widespread international attention.
Several rounds of DNA testing failed to turn up any physical evidence connecting the three men to the crime scene. They were released in 2011 after accepting an Alford plea, which allows defendants to assert their innocence, while conceding that the state has enough evidence to convict them.
Speaking to The Huffington Post, Echols explained that his exhibition is ultimately a way for him to share with the public at large the artistry that helped him survive over 20 years on death row.
“The state of Arkansas tried to murder me for my love of Magick,” he continued, noting that in Arkansas, a state situated along the US’ Bible Belt, Magick carried “sinister connotations.”
“Magick is this rich spiritual tradition that rivals anything from the East in beauty, depth and meaning,” Echols added. “It’s something you can apply to your work in everyday context. The artwork is a bridge to understanding the Magick.”
“Salem” is currently on view at the and runs until April 16th.
(Image by: ©Damien Echols)