“Disassociation: A Moment in Buffalo’s History”
Courtroom Drawings by Ralph Sirianni
April 30 – May 27, 2004
Virginia Weiss Gallery / Empire State College, Buffalo, New York
No stranger to recording events from history, including those of his Viet Nam experience, Ralph Sirianni found courtroom artwork a challenge. This new direction began around the time of James Kopp’ s extradition. There were others, including drawings for NHK Broadcasting (JAPAN), involving a documentary of an I.N.H. (Immigration Naturalization Service) detainee.
Disassociation: A Moment In Buffalo’s History, was a collection of 32 pieces from the Lackawanna 6 case. Many were viewed by international audiences.
Sirianni was notified just after midnight of the morning that the suspects were to appear for their first arraignment. The frenzied atmosphere that surrounded the Federal Court Building alerted him that this would be unlike anything he’d done before. With thoughts of 9-11 still fresh on everyone’s minds and the nature of these indictments, security was at a level seldom, if ever, seen in Buffalo.
Once allowed into the courtroom, the artist can only hope for a decent vantage point. Oftentimes, the individuals to be drawn are facing away or blocked from view. The time factor was important in that as little as 10 to 15 minutes would be a short appearance, as opposed to an hour to 2 hours. At times the tension in the room was very high. This intensifies the speed required to complete a drawing (or 2 or 3) for networks waiting to shoot live.
What the artwork presents to the public should be as accurate and objective as possible. Personal thoughts regarding a case or individuals involved, should not interfere with an artist’s or journalists representation. For that reason, it may be necessary to disengage ones self from everything but the responsibility at hand.
To create the drama of these proceedings, the artist must find a style, pace and materials that support this approach.
Sirianni’s studio art reveals the deep roots of Expressionism. The freedom of working in that vein, coupled with years of caricature drawing at large gatherings, afforded him the capability to tap into these techniques for courtroom art.
He believes that each course an artist takes must begin with a solid foundation in Realism.
With that, he has developed a manner that suggests, where others detail, that’s lines are firm and at times strenuous, as opposed to delicate.