According to the Death Penalty Information Center, since the death penalty was restored in the U.S. in 1976, there have been 1,382 state-sanctioned executions, and 3,088 people remain on death row (as of June 2014). All 32 states with capital punishment extend last-meal requests to death row inmates save for Texas, the state where the most executions take place, which ended this practice in 2011. These meal requests reveal a personal perspective of the prisoners, highlighting their individuality and shining a light on their race, region, and class.
Since 1999, Julie Green has been painting last-meal requests on secondhand ceramic plates. With the technical assistance of Toni Acock, she has painted 600 meals to date, and plans to add fifty plates a year until capital punishment is abolished. Each of the plates comprising The Last Supper tells a prisoner’s story—their favorite meal, something they never got to eat, and in some cases—abstaining from eating the meal as a form of resistance. This ritual serves as a humanizing representation of these individuals—a kind of memorial—where their final choice is permanently recorded. While each state has its own regulations—California offers restaurant take-out meals, while other states limit choices to what is already available in the prison kitchen—we are able to learn some common preferences, such as red meat vs. green vegetables.
This work is also rife with conflict—for one, food represents sustenance for so many, and here it is given to someone who is hours away from death. Another claim is regarding how someone who caused much pain to others can be given any choice at all, and further yet, have it be immortalized in this project. In the fifteen years that Green has been painting these meal requests, she has sought to capture the humanity of these individuals who have been condemned to a sentence that the majority of Western countries have abolished. In so doing, she gives permanence to the final moments of normalcy these death row inmates had before the system implemented its final act.
Julie Green was born in Japan in 1961. A Professor at Oregon State University, she lives in the Willamette Valley with her husband, the artist Clay Lohmann, and their small cat, Mini. Green spends winter months working on The Last Supper; to date, 600 final meals of U.S. inmates have been painted on ceramics. In summer, Green paints personal narratives on panel and on kiln-fired porcelain. Green has had twenty-eight solo exhibitions and recently received the Joan Mitchell Foundation Painters and Sculptors Grant. Her work has been featured in The New York Times and on National Public Radio.