Born as Michael Gordon Peterson, but more famously known as Charles Bronson, he is considered one of Britain’s most violent prisoners. The media, press, and even film have highlighted Bronson’s ill-tempered and violent personality, further reinforcing his public image as an erratic, violent, and dangerous man.
He has been incarcerated, mainly in solitary confinement, for nearly 35 years. Bronson’s extensive list of criminal offences and activities range from petty crimes in his teenage years to a more severe case of an armed robbery in 1974 that lead to one of his first long-term prison sentences of seven years, aged just 22.
For the last 17 years, Bronson has occupied his time in prison and in solitary confinement in a creative and therapeutic way. He turned to art by writing poetry and drawing illustrations and cartoons, a creative and productive outlet for Bronson that isn’t destructive or violent. His artwork was significantly telling, as his pieces would often comment on the faults and problems of the modern punishment system, and categorising people as clinically insane.
Bronson himself has stated, “I’d been certified mad because of my violence. I was still violent – and they were now certifying me sane. Where’s the sanity in that? Isn’t the system just as crazy?” (Bronson, 2000, p.151)
“Psychiatrists had discussed psychopathy and schizophrenia, but never agreed on what mental illness, if any, Bronson was suffering from” (Bronson, 2000, p.151)
In spite of the chaos surrounding Bronson’s criminal offences, imprisonment, and debates over his mental state, Bronson has published eleven books and even won eleven Koestler Trust Awards for his poetry and art. Interestingly, Bronson’s pursuit and interest in poetry and art (not forgetting the commercial success that his work received) goes against the conventional stereotypes associated with a criminal and violent man.
Bronson’s interesting artwork is predominantly in the form of cartoons, depicting some serious and profound themes in what almost seems like a satirical, humorous style. In the professional world of art, Bronson would be considered an ‘Outsider Artist’ – an artist whose work is often based on depicting unconventional ideas and thoughts, or presenting the audience with decorative fantasy worlds.
The 2008 film Bronson starring Tom Hardy is a film based loosely on his life, his experiences within the prison, and depicts Bronson’s inner psychological torment through his physical and verbal aggression and violence towards others.
Some of the most capturing scenes in the film include Bronson’s embrace of drawing and cartooning, in which his prison art teacher encourages him to be creative and draw. Bronson’s artwork is depicted in the film as being a creative release for him, turning his psychological confusion and pain into detailed imagery of birds and grotesque creatures.
He is granted access to a prison art studio to encourage his creativity; however, without warning, Bronson attacks his art teacher. As prison officers wait outside the studio, Bronson enacts a bizarre ritual and keeps his teacher hostage. Whilst the standoff takes place, Bronson demands music is played, paints his naked body black, and ties the teacher to a post, forcing an apple into his mouth and painting eyes onto his eyelids. After this human still life has been arranged to his satisfaction, he accepts his fate, calling for the prison guards to burst in for one last violent fight. This scene is wonderfully climatic – it displays Bronson’s calm creative side that quickly escalates to his distressed, violent, and aggressive side.
This scene shows the duality of his personality and sums up some of the essential themes covered in this film: control and restriction, art, and the sanity and insanity that are interestingly referred to in his artwork. It’s interesting to see how he creates artwork and uses it as a form of escapism and creativity from his everyday life in incarceration.
All in all, Charles Bronson and his story is one worth reading about. He is viewed as an outsider, prisoner, and a misfit by modern day society. Some people may argue that Bronson is none of these things, but simply a lost soul.
“I’m a nice guy, but sometimes I lose all my senses and become nasty. That doesn’t make me evil, just confused.” (Bronson, 2000, p.167).
Words: Lucy Oben-Pepra
Hashtags: #charlesbronson #bronson #tomhardy # michaelgordonpeterson