The ‘Last Meal on Death Row’ prints depict carefully arranged still-lives of the meals chosen by death row prisoners on the last day before their execution.
For the series, Collishaw restated a number of - often intriguing - last suppers and arranged them in the style of 17th century Vanitas paintings, a manner traditionally used to reflect on the transience of life, the futility of pleasure, and the certainty of death.
Whilst aesthetically pleasing in the most classical sense, these photographs reveal below the surface a shocking confrontation with the imminence of death, and give insight into the desires and fears of the to be executed. Humble and mundane foods like cheeseburgers or ice cream take on a new poignancy, as the pictures become surrogate portraits of the prisoners.
The multi-layered yet subtle way in which the message is conveyed is characteristic for Collishaw’s oeuvre.
Dobie Gillis Williams was executed by lethal injection by the State of Louisiana for the murder of Sonja Knippers. According to the prosecution, Williams entered the home of Charles and Sonja Knippers in the early morning hours of July 8, 1984 through their bathroom window. When Sonja Knippers went to the bathroom some time later, Williams locked the door and began stabbing Sonja with a knife.
The evidence that Williams was convicted on is in dispute. Anti-death penalty activist Sister Helen Prejean has used his particular case to illustrate that the poor are disproportionally executed in America. Williams ate twelve candy bars and some ice cream for his last meal. In his final statement, Williams said "I just want to say, I don't have any hard feelings against anybody. God bless y'all. God bless."
View all Last Meal on Death Row prints here.
Born in Nottingham, England in 1966, Mat Collishaw studied at Goldsmiths College of Art from 1986 to 1989, along with a number of other prominent international British artists. He has participated in numerous group exhibitions including Freeze in 1988, and Modern Medicine in 1990, and has had many solo exhibitions in the UK and internationally.
His work appears in important public collections including Tate, London and Centre Pompidou, Paris. He is represented by Tanya Bonakdar Gallery in New York and Haunch of Venison, Zurich. Mat Collishaw lives and works in London.