Grant Czuj

Grant Czuj


Grant Czuj, now 25 years old, is a young artist who also happens to live in a prison in northern Michigan. Since moving there, the creativity that had already resulted in an impressive portfolio of visual art, blossomed to produce many more sketches and paintings in a variety of styles and media. This diversity is displayed in Grant’s first book, Away From Home. In addition to his visual art, Grant began writing poetry while in prison. Since the publication of Away From Home, Grant has become even more prolific. He is exploring a new painting style, has written additional poetry, has begun to write short stories, and is working on a novel.

To introduce Grant, here is an interview conducted by mail, with the answers as Grant provided them.

What are you like as a person?

It’s hard to say. How could anybody answer that question without being extremely biased? I guess you could answer the question by saying what you try to be. I try to be patient, and I try to be compassionate, and most times I feel I am successful. But what I’m like today might not be what I’m like tomorrow. As a human, I think it would be fair to say that I have been, and at some point will be, every type of person. Mean. Loving. Passionate. Terse. Happy. Sad. People are ever-evolving within their characteristics. We learn from life and we change ourselves accordingly. I know that I used to be selfish, and naive in some ways; but I believe myself to be the opposite of that now.

What would others, like those close to you, say you are like as a person?

Except for some, I believe as a general rule, people like to express the best of others. Moreso for people who are close to you, like family. Though this is not the case all the time, as there are people who recognize some members of their family to be enemies. I know that I have been called “patient” and have been told that I “have a big heart.” I can remember departing from an old friend of mine, and he told me to “stay golden.” I couldn’t help but laugh, as I thought myself to be the farthest from golden. Maybe he had seen something I hadn’t.

How would you describe your family background?

Well, I guess I would start by stating that I come from an upper-middle class family. My father has been a millwright for about 35 years, and my mother a social counselor for just about as long. My sister graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in behavioral and cognitive science. Except for myself, I would say that we are just another modern American family.

What are some important memories from your childhood?

That’s a tough question. There are good memories, and of course, bad memories; and I guess important memories could fall under either category. I would imagine that for a memory to be important, it would have to be one that kind of shifted your view of the world–something to learn from. For one reason or another, I’m remembering one time I was spear fishing with an old friend of mine. He and his family live on a lake out in Pinckney, and it was the time of year when the bass spawn and make their beds in the shallows for their eggs. We were walking around the docks near his house at night with a flashlight and a spear–not exactly a ‘legal’ excursion. We had spotted a large mouth bass on her bed just in reach. I was so excited about the size of the fish, I wasn’t thinking straight. After pulling it out of the water, she started to drop eggs on our shoes. I threw her back into the water. I felt so bad about needlessly killing a fish like that, I remember going home that night and praying for forgiveness. I learned my limits that night. I still like to fish, but I mostly practice a catch-and-release method; unless, of course, I have a license and plan on making a meal of my catch. Not to be selfish and wasteful was definitely the lesson there.

I’m sure there are many other important memories trapped in this skull of mine. At this time I can’t really think of any, though I’m sure I won’t stop thinking.

What are some significant aspects of your experience in prison?

It’s definitely an eye opener. I think it would be safe to say that it made me rethink my whole existence. Not a “What’s it all for?” kind of thinking, but an “OK, what now?” kind of thinking. When that door is closed behind you, everything you knew is out of reach. It was a rock bottom moment, and the only good thing about that is there is only one way to go–up. So as I was crawling out of my hole, I was learning a tremendous amount about myself and reinventing my character accordingly. The Department of Corrections is built upon the idea of rehabilitation, but I would feel confident in saying that if you were to ask any ex-convict, they would tell you that their rehabilitation was left in their own hands. Many inmates don’t seem to take the initiative. I knew on my first day that I wasn’t going to make that mistake. I was sentenced to many years, and I would be a fool to waste them.

What has influenced your art?

The human experience. Always has and always will.

What does your art mean to you?

I feel like I should say that it means everything, but I don’t think it’s that crucial. I’m not the type of artist to say that I would go crazy if I couldn’t create. Besides, I believe the artists that do say that are over-selling it. If I couldn’t create artwork, I’d find something else to do. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t have great respect and value for not only my creative process, but for all artists. Could we imagine a world without creative expression? I feel privileged and honored to see that people find enjoyment in my artwork. It feels good. But I’m not always successful in that regard. Some of my work could very well piss people off. I wouldn’t say this makes me feel good, but its definitely interesting.

What are your goals for the future?

I try not to dwell on ideas of what or where I should be in the future. I was lucky enough to learn early in my life that circumstances arise that could be life-changing, whether wanted or not. Of course, given the information at hand, we all can get a sense of what may happen tomorrow or the next day. But this sense is not concrete knowledge by any means, and we should not live our lives with a lie, believing that it is. Besides, I believe this is one of our great problems as a society. We tend to constantly think of our goals and of what we need to do to become what we feel we need to be in the future. We completely miss the moment at hand. We train ourselves to live in the future, and before we know it, we come to the end.

Should we not make goals? Of course, we should. It is beautiful to want to enrich your life in positive ways. But I believe we should not forget the goals we set are only goals, and they might not get reached. We should also take the business of goal-setting seriously. Like if they can be reached, what kind of impact would they have on, not only our lives, but on the lives of those around us? Personally, I am not one to make plans. I have a tendency to change my mind constantly. Sure, there are things I would like to do, but I’m not going to delude myself into believing these things will get accomplished. I write and I create my artwork on a daily basis. I have no plans on becoming a best-selling author or a world-reknown artist. If it happens great; I would be honored. I can only take one step at a time.



Away From HomeIn this deeply personal and universally appealing collection of visual art and poetry, Away From Home, Grant Czuj looks at himself and the human condition from multiple, often paradoxical, perspectives: confined, yet free; oppressed, yet defiantly optimistic; regretful, yet full of hope; surrounded by the mundane, yet inspired by the smallest detail. The art in this book expresses both the poignant memories and the present musings of a talented young man who is paying a steep price for just one of the many experiences that life has already brought his way.




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