From art heist prison sentence to artist, writer and gallery host

Dean Stalham is an artist and writer

Exhibition organiser Dean Stalham could be described as having a more colourful past than the art that adorns his Margate gallery space.

The dad-of-five has had three spells in prison, one involving the theft a £6 million art haul consisting of  four Andy Warhols, 13 Chegalls, 33 Dalis and two Cindy Shermans.

The 55-year-old served three-and-a-half years for handling the art after buying it in a dodgy deal at a house in Belgravia for a knockdown price. Unfortunately for then-villian turned antiques dealer Dean one of the Warhol prints, of Marilyn Monroe, turned out to be so rare that when he tried to sell it he ended up being arrested.

Dean said: “It seemed like quite a deal but it turned out the art belonged to a cousin of the Rothchilds.” Perversely it was the art theft that led to Dean’s love of art, and words, being nurtured during his time in Wandsworth and then Ford open prison.

He began painting and writing whilst behind bars and on his release in 2006 had won three awards from the Koestler Trust, which promotes art by offenders.

The gallery’s previous space in Westbrook

Dean’s new found talents did not get put on hold after he left prison, he has written six plays, including Geronimo screened on Channel 4, penned scripts for soap series Eastenders, exhibits his art including a series of Amy Winehouse paintings, founded the Art Saves Lives charity and Debarred Theatre and now works with Stretch, a charity delivering art programmes to those who are, or have been, in the prison system. He can also count writer Will Self and artist Grayson Perry amongst his friends.

Dean said: “I went into prison with no qualifications and came out with A Level art, three NUJ awards and a BTEC in video production.”

It is an exhibition from Stretch that is currently being managed by Dean at a premises in The Centre, Margate.
The Stretch Outsider Arts Festival, running into March, has work from eight artists including Dean and Libertines frontman Pete Doherty.

Work by Pete Doherty

Ironically at the launch of the exhibition, which took place in Westbrook, someone swiped a Doherty picture labelled up for £3,000. Dean carried out some investigation work and the painting was returned, with the 50% proceeds, if sold, for the Stretch charity saved.

The grandad-of-two shrugs the incident off as ‘pathetic’ and returns to talking about the art on show and the people behind it, with special mention for Thanet artists taking part..

Other artists in the festival  include locals Rebecca Sunshine, Jason Evers, Mark Downing, Jose Fonseca and Richard Epps and, from further afield, Greg Bromley, ‘prison Da Vinci’ Chris Wilson, Kevin King, Sebastian Wilbur and Eve McDougal who found herself in a Scottish prison at the age of 15 for stealing a bun.

Enthusiasm for the Arts Council backed Outsider exhibition, and Stretch, is evident when Dean talks about it. He said: “The Stretch charity is run by former prisoner Carlotta Allum. She offers art experiences to former prisoners and vulnerable groups. We teamed up and got good venues and people together with exhibitions in places like Shoreditch, Bedford and Poplar.

“The launch here had about 150 people and went really well. Everyone loved it.”

Work by Eve McDougal

Since moving to Thanet, first Ramsgate and now Margate, Dean has also staged plays at the Tom Thumb Theatre and the Gulbenkian in Canterbury and run creative writing courses with homelessness charity Catching Lives.

A new play, which contains the grit of his previous works but moves towards a different theme, is now ready for staging. Cellflies utilises real stories from young people with homeless issues in Kent and is also earmarked to be made into a film.

And no doubt there is more to come from this interesting man who gives a nod to his past in his work but refuses to be defined by the label of ex-prisoner or high-flying artist and writer. He is, instead, an advocate of art for everyone, no matter your past or present.

Find the Stretch Outsider Art Festival at 34-35 The Centre, Margate or on facebook.

What is Stretch?

Stretch delivers arts projects with prisoners, ex-prisoners, homeless, mental health groups and young people in care, making the arts accessible to some of the most vulnerable people marginalised by society. Projects can cover visual arts, museums, photography, creative writing and media skills. The charity works with people to make their voice heard in order to dispel myths and stereotypes and create positive change.

The charity was set up in 2003 by former prisoner Carlotta Allum who spent eight and a half months in an American detention centre after being arrested at  LAX airport for being a drug mule.

On her release and return to the UK carlotta completed her  MA in Museums and Galleries in Education at the London Institute.

She  studied Classical Studies at Kings College London, then completed a PGCE. She has also completed a research scholarship with the Griffins Society at the London School of Economics looking at the arts and rehabilitation of female offenders.

Stretch  is currently delivering Stretch Digital, a nationwide Big Lottery funded project equipping prisoners with skills in new media to create digital stories about their personal experiences of the criminal justice system and the life that led them there.

1 Comment

  1. Great story, Kathy! And the first two issues of your print edition are keepers,should win you more national awards. We are very lucky to have you and Jody serving our community.

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