Those on the street have been forced to live close to the bone of a profound and hidden meaning. In their presence, one is close to the truth of the terrifying yet liberating sense of transience which ought to teach us a generosity towards one another, a kind of care and love.
In one of Dong Lin’s chilling images, a policeman stops to nudge a homeless man lying on a San Francisco sidewalk, only to find he is already dead, just another accident statistic. The faceless fatalities in our midst are almost never seen. They live and die in a faraway place -- the Other America.
Christine Hanlon’s beautifully composed images of outcast souls struggling to survive in barren urban landscapes seem to be ripped from today’s news stories about increasing poverty in America. Yet, her deeply felt paintings also are timeless in their portrayal of classic themes explored by great painters through the ages.
Today’s artists joined with Dorothea Lange to document the side of American life that is forced to live in the shadows — in the brush under an overpass. The writers in the Encounter with Lange project try to give voice to these images and to see the human faces of the poor.
Jonathan Burstein’s reveals the humanity of the homeless people, panhandlers, and down-and-out workers who appear in his paintings like saints walking among us unseen. His art is most beautiful and shot through with transcendence at those moments when it portrays people seemingly crushed to the earth by poverty and hopelessness.
Artistic creativity arises from those trampled down by mainstream society. Artist Moby Theobald said, “There’s sort of a history of the starving artist. When a person is poor, they turn away from the outside world, or they feel turned away by the outside world; and so it maybe sparks their creativity.”
Michael Creedon poetically chronicled the lives of those exiled onto the cruel streets, until he himself fell victim to that same fate. His poetry was full of love and mercy for the poor and dispossessed, and expressed his deeply held belief that each one of those lives was of sacred worth.
“Through my art I show the plight, struggle, humanity, and the seeking of justice of the human race. I will always paint the message of humankind — the unheard voices, the denied, the neglected, the grass roots. To address social issues — to wake up America and the world to the way it ought to be.”
My sense of identification with the struggles and the dreams of people is as intense as ever. I am connecting with people right here in my neighborhood -- the less visible people who are disabled or poor or homeless and whose images and stories need to be brought to public attention.
Oakland Attorney Andrew Wolff has clients at the West Grand Hotel and said: “This is the worst housing condition I have ever encountered in my practice, and the level of tenant abuse is obscene. I commend the City of Oakland for taking this place down.”
The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination stated it is “concerned at the high number of homeless persons, who are disproportionately from racial and ethnic minorities and at the criminalization of homelessness through laws that prohibit activities such as loitering, camping, begging, and lying in public spaces.”