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Local look: art of the homeless

WRITTEN BY: JESSE OLESON

This coming Thursday at the event “Humanizing Homelessness in San Diego,” Neil Shigley’s large-scale block prints and graphite drawings will showcase one of the overlooked people groups in San Diego, the homeless.

With drawings and paintings covering the walls of a small shack-type structure tucked behind residential housing in Golden Hill, Shigley, escapes in his studio to make his art.

The art being showcased is part of the exhibition titled “Neil Shigley: Invisible People, Invisible Structures.”

“I do these large block prints and there’s probably twenty-ish of those I’m guessing, 20-25. And then I also do large-scale drawings and there’s another 15 of those,” said Shigley.

Shigley, who is a former PLNU art professor, has always liked print making and studied it in college which is why he chose to use this method for creating the large block prints of the homeless. Each piece created takes a considerable amount of time.

“My typical plate is 3-by-4 [feet] and just the carving alone takes about six hours. Then there’s the mounting and drawing before that and printing and all that stuff so each piece is probably in the neighborhood of 20 hours,” said Shigley.

But 20 hours is only the time it takes to make the small pieces.

The large pieces use the same size plate (3-by-4 foot) and Shigley puts them together to make a larger piece. “So you take the same number of hours for the small plate but you times it by nine. So some take quite a while,” said Shigley.

Each piece is marked by the name of the subject, where and when Shigley met him or her, age, and then an old hobo symbol used in the 1930’s and 1940’s. This symbol would communicate something to other homeless people like, “Un- safe Place” or “Water source here.” Each symbol is unique to the person or conversation that Shigley has with them.

Shigley doesn’t seem to be slowing down. His upcoming focus is to add more women and children. Shigley’s belief is that many times homeless children have no choice and are often dragged along. This belief is the same for some of the homeless women.

“Humanizing Homelessness in San Diego” is a panel discussion event bringing in some of the San Diego’s experts to weigh in on the topic of homelessness.

Including the panelists, one of the subjects of the works, titled “Mark, 46,” will also be in attendance on Thursday. The anticipated event was sold out eight days prior with people using the Face- book page to reach out asking for extra tickets.

“The idea that maybe this art is in anyway responsible for focusing the attention on these people is, as an artist, it doesn’t get any better than that. To get people to move to do something like that is pretty cool,” said Shigley.

Neil Shigley series will be on view at the History Center in Balboa Park until April 17.

photo by: Jesse Oleson

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Jordan Ligons

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