I took the afternoon off yesterday to go down to the Hearstside neighborhood in hopes that I would be able to do a drawing of at least one person living on the street. For those of you reading this out of town, The Heartside is the neighborhood were the rescue missions and the soup kitchen is located that takes care of the homeless. As I made my way to the Heartside Gallery a man called out to me asking for money.
He said he was a veteran. I said I didn't have and money and kept walking. I actually did have some money but I was acting out of reflex and had my armor on. I made my way back to him a few minutes later and gave him a dollar and asked if he could help me out by letting me do a drawing of him.
So he said yes, and we exchanged names and I led my new friend - James down the street to the Heartside Gallery Studio where we could get comfortable and settle into a drawing session. Over the next fifteen minutes I began to get some of his story which included a bullet to the stomach, shrapnel in his shoulder and a recently broken collar bone that took him out his recent work situation. I found out that when you stay at Guiding Light Mission you are required to sit through a three hour worship service each night.
After I finished up the drawing of James and he made his way back out onto the street, I was ready for my next subject. I had noticed two ladies sitting at the table next to mine earlier and asked each of them if I could do a drawing of them, and got two flat out no's. After a little while another woman sat across from me at my table, and after a little chit chat I asked her if I could do her drawing, she replied yes. So my new model whose name was Holiday, asked if she could read while I worked. She picked up a Cosmopolitan magazine that had been lying nearby. It was a pleasure to draw Holiday, especially with her tall Dallas Cowboy's hat she had on with what I assumed was all her hair was stuffed up into it. This time I worked in silence because I sensed she wanted it that way. When I was done and showed her the drawing she did not seem particularly impressed one way or another, but remained at least cautiously pleasant. I then packed up my stuff, said my good byes and made my way for home.
Back in 1989 I had a studio in the Heartside on Division Street, above the soup kitchen called God's Kitchen (perhaps named in reference to Hell's Kitchen in New York City). I spent most of the year in the neighborhood doing drawings of the people that I met. I used the drawings I collected and worked them into a series of paintings that I donated to some of the social service agencies in the neighborhood that work with the homeless. That year left a powerful mark on me. I was touched by being with people who were living in such a vulnerable way exposed to the elements and making by with so very little in the way of creature comforts. And yet in spite of all these challenges I found my heart often touched to the core by the beauty and dignity that showed itself in the lives of the people that I was drawing and getting to know bit by bit. Now 26 years later I find myself reentering this world all over again.