In Custody (Project for a Southern Armory)
North America, American, Alabama
18 3/4 x 23 1/2 in. (47.63 x 59.69 cm)
Medium and Support:
Watercolor on paper
Gift of George W. and Sue Royer, Jr.
"In Custody" (Project for a Southern Armory) was exhibited in New York at the Delphic Studios in January, 1938. In a review of that exibition, the writer asked Gillis where he had seen the subject. "I didn't see it," he explained. "They announced they would build a new armory in my town (Selma, Alabama), and this is how I felt it would work out."
Gillis' painting portrays a frightened black man in the custody of National Guardsmen. The look of terror on the figure's face conveys his reaction to an environment that was overtly hostile to African-Americans in the time of Jim Crow laws, combined with other abusive practices that operated outside of the legitimate justice system. Within the small-town cultures of the South at that time, poor people, white and black, had little recourse when they became ensnared within webs of hatred and greed.