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A Brush with Art Arts Community Community News Rancho Santa Fe

A Brush with Art: Exhibition focuses awareness on San Diego’s homeless

Currently on display at Oceanside Museum of Art, Neil Shigley: Invisible People compassionately brings to light members of San Diego’s homeless population.

The exhibition focuses on large-scale block prints and graphite on paper works that spotlight the essence of those who endure life on our local streets.

While giving insight into their hardships, Shigley’s portraits simultaneously reveal the nobility, strength, and humanity of these individuals.

Regarding the general population’s reaction to this largely “invisible” group consisting of an estimated 2,400 individuals, Shigley says, “I think most people who encounter people in the streets ignore them, avoid them, act as if they’re not there. They actively make them invisible.”  The artist presents the portraits in extremely large format which, according to Shigley “forces people who are in a room with these images to confront this person and the situation they’re in, making them visible again.” It’s his intention to bring these “invisible people” out of the shadows with this commanding body of work.

Shigley’s artwork has been exhibited throughout the U.S., including the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C., while also prominently featured in the Martin Luther King Memorial Mural located on the Martin Luther King Freeway (Highway 94) in San Diego.

Many symbols were used by drifters in the 1930s and ‘40’s to relay information about a place to other drifters who may later pass that way. Each portrait is marked with a symbol that relates to the individual portrayed. Courtesy photo
Many symbols were used by drifters in the 1930s and ‘40’s to relay information about a place to other drifters who may later pass that way. Each portrait is marked with a symbol that relates to the individual portrayed. Courtesy photo

Growing up the son of a military officer stationed in Europe, the Far East and several parts of the U.S., Shigley studied painting and printmaking at San Diego State University before graduating with honors from Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design.

He then became an award-winning free-lance illustrator in New York City with clients including many Fortune 500 companies.

After returning to San Diego in 1990, Shigley transitioned into fine art and began teaching. He continues to teach drawing, illustration, and life drawing at San Diego State University and Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego.

Since Shigley created his first portrait of a homeless gentleman in 2005, much of his art has focused on the human condition. Capturing the likeness of an individual in high contrast of light and shadow, Shigley delves into the character and lives of his subjects. He learns about their history, their dreams, and how they came to live on the streets in order to create an honest, dignified and compassionate portrayal of the person’s essence — or as Shigley describes, “a character that is hard earned through sometimes many years of life on the streets and the daily struggle for survival that that may bring.”

Shigley acknowledges that artists have the ability to focus public attention on challenging situations that exist in our society. He states, “By focusing attention you can raise awareness, in this case to people living in the streets. When awareness is raised then change can happen on a society level, or even on a personal level where you just treat somebody with respect as a human being.”

In regards to the homeless, Shigley muses, “It’s easy to see the differences. If we focus on the things that make us alike, if we embrace these things, if we search for these things, it opens the door for peace, love, and understanding. It’s important that people who see this work have a little bit different look at people… All people, not just people in the street.”

Shigley suggests, “The next time you pass someone sleeping in the street, I hope you will realize that as a child, this is probably not the life that they had dreamed of leading. Each has a family, friends and a story of why they are where they are. By presenting these faces on a large scale we are forced to confront them and the situation that so many like them find themselves. My dream for each portrait is to, in some small way, touch on the human condition.”

Neil Shigley: Invisible People will be on display at Oceanside Museum of Art through Feb. 15.

For more information call (760) 435-3720 or visit the museum’s website at The museum is located at 704 Pier View Way in downtown Oceanside.



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