Portraits of the Homeless: Part one of many
Recently I have found myself sitting in a brightly lit room made of green-painted cinder blocks. This happens several nights during the week around 7 pm or so. The walls and the unrelenting florescent bulbs overhead have a raw oppressiveness about them that can only leave one feeling cold in marrow and in spirit, and yet my absolute very first and lasting impression has been one of utter comfort. I sit in the Bridge Emergency Shelter in Cortez, Colorado, amongst those who have no other bed that night than the one in that building. Many of these folks have taken the path less traveled, and for many it seems, their paths are marred with sudden thick forests filled with impossibly tight brambles, and the way seems hopelessly gone. And yet they have welcomed me, a stranger on a different---less difficult---path, into their living room. The cinder blocked room of white light is their dining area and tv room, as well as a place to do activities like make art. They've welcomed me into this space by replying to my "hello." They indulge me by telling me about their days. If it were up to the walls in that space, no one would look at me, much less speak to me. Fortunately, however, the walls have no say; their coldness cannot dominate the people within them. Those who sit with me smile despite the blinding bulbs overhead. Their eyes shield much, but they cannot completely obscure the good, glowing fire within themselves. Like a closed warm stove lit inside, the orange luminosity radiates through the cracks. And so I am welcomed into this brief slice of their day, of their world, as the artist who will paint a few of their portraits.
These portraits will belong to the Bridge. My hope is to create four of them from now until the end of March. Each portrait will have a face of one of their guests, and surrounding the face will be images depicting each one's greatest challenge and their biggest dream. Not only do I want to encourage them to articulate these details, but for those who often get overlooked by our society, I want them to know that I see them. (I see you!) They matter. And I want others to see them. The homeless are not less. We all make choices, some uplifting and some that bring burden. Despite all the cacophony from our society pressuring us to constantly judge one another and ourselves in every little thing we do, the basic truth that we are all made of similar, bouncing molecules never changes. My hope is that this project will help shed more light---even if it's faint---on the issue of homelessness in our country, and how we can break through our own limited thinking about each other as a human race.
I will update this blog as frequently as I can on this topic as I continue to go to the Shelter and create the work. May you all be well.
Note: The condition of the Shelter (the walls and lights, etc.) are not a reflection on those who run it. The director and volunteers have done everything they can to ensure that the space is as comfortable, homey, and safe as possible for its guests.