Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Neil Shigley's Portraits of the Homeless

Neil Shigley, was born in Columbus, Ohio, into a military family. He has lived in France, Korea, and several places in the United States, and now resides in the San Diego area. Shigley was exposed to art and culture in the places his family traveled, and by watching his father and older brother make art. He studied art at San Diego State University, then went to the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, where he studied illustration and printmaking.
He lived and worked as an illustrator in New York City, and did numerous commissioned portraits for magazines and other media. He returned to San Diego in 1990, and transitioned to making fine art. He began teaching at the Academy of Art in San Francisco, then eventually at San Diego State University and Point Loma Nazarene University.

Shigley spends time talking to his subjects about their life, their history, their plans, their dreams, and why they are on the streets. He has been working on this series for several years and feels strongly about the value of getting the work out there, so that more people can contemplate the issue of chronic homelessness.
“ My dream for each portrait is to, in some small way, touch on the human condition.”
At the bottom of each image, Shigley hand-paints a symbol for each person(chosen from one of many that were used by U.S. drifters in the 1930s to relay information about places for other drifters to stay.)

Yes, these portraits are on the surface descriptive, and the artist is interested in them as subjects to see how light passes over the terrain of their flesh; much in the same way Rembrandt did with his portraits, or how contemporary artists like Chuck Close has enlarged the figure so much we almost see them in abstract line, tone and contour.

The straightforward likenesses of these individuals reveal wrinkled, scarred and weathered surfaces and their personal histories are visible for all to see.
What has staying power with the viewer is the impressive scale of the work, and the charm of the subjects' personalities, which shine through their squinty eyes and toothy grins. There is a happiness that transcends their outward appearance and we glimpse a person beneath the facade, someone who at one point in their life was not as we see them now.

I applaud Shigley for keeping with this series, not especially for the documentary-ness of the project, but for the humanity of it. These people are individuals, with heart and feelings, like each one of us. They deserve to be seen, not forgotten, (as most of us would and do ignore them on the street, either because we can't bear to deal with one more person asking for spare change, or because we don't want the intrusion into our 'oh-so-important-and-busy'lives.) Not all of us ignore the street people out there, but how many of us go up to a person on the street and really take the time to say something - anything - to them? It's something to consider, and something to ask ourselves if we were in their place how would we deal with being on the street, and how would we relate to a guy who walks up and wants to take our picture for a portrait project he is doing? What would you do?

No comments:

Post a Comment