H x W x D (Framed): 39 5/8 × 18 × 1 in. (100.6 × 45.7 × 2.5 cm)
Pennsylvania, United States, North and Central America
Claude Clark’s The Poet II is a visual homage to the thousands of African American men imprisoned under the forced labor system called the chain gang. Sanctioned by the state, the chain gang was used throughout the South for building projects such as roads and railroads. The system flourished during the 1920s and 1930s and was renowned for its inhumane work conditions and brutal corporal punishments. As evidenced in the painting, chain gang convicts were required to wear striped uniforms and ankle shackles to prevent escape. Members of the gang would often sing in rhythmic call-and-response verse to alleviate the monotony of their work, to help them work in tandem with one another, and as a creative outlet to express the pain and injustice they endured.
An oil painting on paperboard depicting a man in a prison jumpsuit playing a guitar under pine trees. The man stands with his left foot propped up on a rock, his feet bare. A large ball and chain is attached to his right ankle. He wears a white jumpsuit with wide blue stripes. Tall pine trees are behind him with white clouds and blue sky visible between them. The man’s hair appears red. There are no brushstrokes; the paint has been applied using a palette knife. In the bottom right corner is the artist's signature [C. Clark].