Second Chances showcases a superhero

By Hadley Gaff, Features Editor   

 Art teacher Jeremy McFarren’s comic book for the Second Chances exhibit at the ArtLink gallery conveys the story of rehabilit
Art teacher Jeremy McFarren’s comic book for the Second Chances exhibit at the ArtLink gallery conveys the story of rehabilitated ex-convict Wesley McGhee through his persona Dark Superman.
  Carroll High School art teacher Jeremy McFarren recently worked with a rehabilitated ex-convict to tell his story through the medium of art, which is on display in the Second Chances exhibit of the ArtLink gallery until April 13.

   The Second Chances exhibit was proposed by the owner and executive director of Blue Jacket, Inc., a company aimed at rehabilitating released prisoners, and board member of ArtLink, Tony Hudson. Hudson approached McFarren and other local artists to get their assistance in portraying the challenges that 13 Blue Jacket, Inc. graduates have faced in their lifetimes.

    “He [Hudson] is very passionate about the idea of redemption,” McFarren said, “the idea that we all deserve a second chance. And that is what drives him to make Blue Jacket successful and work for these graduates. And so, the Second Chances exhibit came about of these graduates of his program that have not only gone through the process of rehabilitating themselves, but have also become productive members of society.”

   The purpose of the exhibit is to draw attention to the individuals, not their pasts. The artists centered their pieces around how their graduates have moved forward from the particular troubles that plagued them. The hope for the exhibit is that the public will realize that it is okay for people to have faced adversity and trials in their lives so long as they are attempting to improve their situation.

   “I think the best thing is it puts a face, a human face, on this kind of story,” McFarren said. “What we’re trying to do is not only take that particular face and make it human, but also tell the story with it and make sure that people are focusing on not the trouble that they had, not the heartbreak, but how they are moving past it, how they are getting on to a new, better, more productive, fulfilling side of their life.”

   McFarren chose Wesley McGhee as his graduate and art subject. Though McFarren selected McGhee from a list with no prior knowledge of him or his interests, they turned out to have a common ground – a love of comics. 

  McGhee uses comics to assist himself in his rehabilitation. He created a persona for himself that he calls Dark Superman, which he uses to motivate himself to “help him get into the gym, do all the stuff he needs to do” and “also work toward his goal of eventually competing in a body building contest.”

   McGhee has struggled with his weight in addition to incarceration. In 2015, he competed in Fort Wayne’s Smallest Winner, a local take on the television show The Biggest Loser. This competition mentored McGhee on how to live healthfully, while Blue Jacket mentored him on how to become a productive member of society.

   “As he is going through all of his Blue Jacket, Inc. rehabilitation to try to get his life back on track through working,” McFarren said, “at the same time he gets into Smallest Winner and the two things combine together to push him toward that next level… He likes to think about it as like the movie Hancock where Will Smith is this aging, broken down superhero that gets himself back.”

   The figure Dark Superman represents McGhee before “his life went downhill” and his Krypton exploded. Once incarcerated, Dark Superman was exiled and McGhee’s pervious life vanished. Now that he is working past those trials and towards rehabilitation, Dark Superman is returning and “Krypton is reforming.”

   McFarren was able to capture the essence of Dark Superman and McGhee’s journey from a young man to where he is now in a six-page comic. He sketched a thumbnail size version of the comic for McGhee to look over. Then, when the final product was complete, he sent it to McGhee for approval and printed a copy for the gallery. Much of the creative license was left to McFarren, but he tried to focus his work on the substance of McGhee’s life rather than the scandal of it.    

    “I met with him and we talked and I took notes about his life and some of the things he thinks about – less about the details of his past life and more about the thoughts behind it and the emotions motivating it,” McFarren said.

    The ArtLink gallery will continue showing the Second Chances exhibit until April 13. McFarren and 12 other artists (Josh Angel, Jared Applegate, Jeff Crane, Derek Decker, Paul Demaree, Daniel Dienelt, Suzanne Galazka, Tim Parsley, Stephen Perfect, Jerrod Tobias, Deb Washler, and Josef Zimmerman) have work on display in the exhibit. Several pieces of artwork were included in a live auction March 11, but those that were not sold during that session are available in a silent auction that will end on April 13.