As a senior painting major at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, I have focused on creating a body of work for my undergraduate exhibition. I believe that artists have a social responsibility to their community, and this essay discusses my paintings as they relate to my personal activism. Working with both sheltered and unsheltered individuals, I am striving to use paint, my medium of communication, to give a voice to those who often remain unheard. This essay discusses the lives and characters of six individuals who are homeless in Milwaukee and Chicago, focusing on the nobility of humankind and the importance of finding an internal Center within the midst of change.
The ancient Polynesians were first guided to the Hawaiian islands by Shaman-like navigators who had the old knowledge of how to sail through the Pacific without the use of any instruments. In a 1998 lecture on this topic, “Wise Navigating Through Change: A Meditational Perspective,” native Hawaiian Steven Smith stated:
There are parallels with the modern concept of chaos theory, the understanding that behind turbulent systems there are patterns, natural rhythms to the universe. This is what these ancient shaman-navigators discerned, because they were in the midst of nothing but change, only change; massive, turbulent systems of cloud formations, storm systems, ocean swells, currents, and wind patterns. They learned the language of the elements, which provided them a map of where they were in the midst of change. Attuned to and one with the naked elements of nature, they sailed for centuries somewhere between their homelands and the extraordinary discoveries of new islands in the sea  .
A couple of months ago, I came across a report card that my pre-school teacher had written about me. It read, “Casey does not do well during transitional periods between activities.” Miss Deb went on to say that I often got confused and refused to move on to whatever came next. Nineteen years later, I have realized that I am not alone in this problem. Change is invariably the only constant in the sea, leaving humankind to continually navigate through the unforeseen, struggling and striving to find a center that is independent of outside conditions. By attuning their bodies to nature’s rhythms, the ancient Shaman navigators of the Pacific were able to preserve a psychological field within their own mind where they could center themselves and find stability and strength to endure. It is in this same way that individuals today are able to arise each morning and push their way through the day, finding a seemingly impossible centered strength within the tumult and thrashing abuse of change.
There is an old Japanese proverb, “Fall seven times, stand up eight.” It is precisely this continual endurance and repeated rising, despite the grave awareness that change is constant and one will inevitably fall again, which makes humankind so noble. I have come to believe, through observing this quiet nobility for a number of years, that its accumulated presence results in an incomparable physical and spiritual brilliance which is emitted through one’s pores like an effervescent light. It is an unmistakable human quality shared by all, but only recognized in some.
I have spent the majority of my life living as an artist in Chicago and Milwaukee. In these cities, I have come to recognize the severe socio-economic gaps between classes, and have become aware of an unspoken American caste system. In this social order, those who, for a multitude of reasons, have found themselves to be without a sedentary place to call a home, are pegged as “The Homeless,” and are the American equivalent of India’s Dalits, or Untouchables, the 160 million individuals suffering a form of racist, economic bondage . Through painful personal observation, I have noted society’s inexcusably inhumane treatment of such individuals, and have seen their noble brilliance go unnoticed and without reverence.
In my conversations with such nomadic travelers and temporarily sheltered individuals, I have been moved by the exquisite beauty of their great luminosity, perseverance, and resilience in the face of constant change. As these qualities are shared by all humankind, I have come to recognize myself in others and, likewise, feel it is important to allow others to recognize one’s self in all people. It is in honor of secret brilliance and unrealized unity that I make my current body of work.
I am creating six large-scale oil paintings on panel. Four of these are 4' x 6', and two are vertically positioned diptychs, measuring 6' x 8'. I am painting portraits of two sheltered women living at the Hope House, a transitional shelter in Walker’s Point, Milwaukee, WI, and four unsheltered men living on the streets of Milwaukee and Chicago, IL. All of the individuals are placed in psychological fields, representative of the inner centered space in which each person dwells. These fields are composed of lush garden and wildflower environments, calling attention to the strength, fragility, and beauty of life, and recognizing the struggle to obtain the basic needs that make life possible.
In September of 2003, The Milwaukee Continuum of Care conducted a study to collect facts on homelessness in Milwaukee. Two hundred volunteers administered the nine-page survey to fifteen shelters, St. Ben’s Meal Site, and on city streets, interviewing 761 homeless adults. Most of those interviewed received a stipend. One small facet of this survey revealed 21% of Milwaukee’s homeless population is employed at jobs paying below eight dollars an hour. Of these individuals, 71% use public transportation to get to work every day .
On an average day, I spend between two and three hours waiting
for and riding Milwaukee city busses. In an average week, that
amounts to somewhere between 14 and 21 hours spent with total
strangers. Everyday, I bear the elements with others who ride
the bus. It is a diverse community, including: senior citizens;
disabled citizens; large families, single men, and women living
on a tight budget; those living in poverty or without homes
who use it as a means to get to work, to free meal programs,
to shelters, to kill boredom, or to get in out of the cold;
those who have had their driver’s licenses revoked for
a variety of different reasons; non-citizens who cannot get
a driver’s license; new U.S. citizens unable to get a
license due to language barriers; the environmentally conscious,
and students like me. This wide range of people has opened
my eyes to our collective humanity and has strengthened my
interest in community.
After three years living on Milwaukee’s East Side, I
have been able to turn some of those strangers into neighbors
and friends. I know Janice, who works at the hair salon by
the airport. I know that she almost quit because they did not
have enough help. I know Dave, who wears a red jacket and who
does not have a home. He once followed my roommate to her car
in the Subway parking lot, banging on her door when she would
not give him money. I know enough about him to say he is not
like this all the time; I have seen him on better days. I have
gotten to know John [Figure
an unsheltered man who once let me draw him, but would not
participate in my thesis this year. He doesn’t remember
me from before. I have met Jimmy many times, a beautifully
peaceful and loving person who now has an apartment somewhere
nearby. He calls me his little sister, and brags about his
multitude of bicycles and twenty-one girlfriends. He recently
presented me with an article written about him, describing
him as the Unofficial Bayshore Mall Mascot. One woman I see
many times in the winter, once gave me a child’s communion
dress, plaid pants, and an unopened Squirt soda while we shared
a bus ride together. She insisted I take all of these items.
This woman, whose name I don’t know, exudes an extraordinary
brilliance and fragility, and sometimes uses the bus for sleep. She
tells me I am beautiful each time I see her. The more time
I invest in getting to know people who would otherwise be strangers,
the happier and more fulfilled my life becomes. I have found
that, through empathizing and connecting with others, I have
become better equipped to respond to obstacles in my own life.
I work towards resisting the identification of individuals
as “other,” and instead, strive to appreciate
the common humanity which binds all people.
“Whoever degrades another degrades me,” writes
Walt Whitman, “and whatever is done or said returns
at last to me . . . By God! I will accept nothing which
all cannot have their counterpart of on the same terms.”  Last
winter, while riding the bus home from school around midnight,
I was unfortunate enough to witness a bus driver grab a man
who had used the bus as a way to get in out of the cold, as
a place to find some temporary rest. It seemed the man sleeping
in the seat in front of me had ridden a full loop. Back at
Wisconsin Avenue, the bus driver yelled to him to wake up and
get off. His language was vulgar, sharp, and rude. When the
sleeping man did not respond, the driver stood up, walked up
to him, and, through a blur of grabbing and kicking, forcibly
removed the passenger while yelling, “It’s time
to find a new bedroom!” The stinging ridicule in his
words was abusive, unnecessary, and demeaning.
While there is never an appropriate occasion to treat another
human being in this manner, the most offensive part was my
realization that no one on the bus seemed to react at all.
In The Visible Poor: Homelessness in the United States,
author Joel Blau discusses the contemporary societal response
to a man begging for money. He writes, “People walk by.
Some look away . . . . Others grimace; in their eyes, the man
is a failure, or he would not resort to begging. The more sympathetic
give two quarters, then feel helpless at the inadequacy of
such a small gift . . . . Cynicism and indifference show in
those pedestrians whose gait changes the least. These pass
the homeless man as if they were walking through a glass tunnel.” 
Angered at the glass tunnel of the bus that night, I realized the importance of acknowledging the refulgent resilience within one who endures such blows on a daily basis. My neighbors on the Route 15 bus recognized the man’s social caste rather than respecting his humanity, his strength, and his dignity.
In part, this can be blamed on society’s need to enumerate
people, turning them into faceless statistics, placing them
in a file to be handled later. In de-personifying the individual,
one distances one’s self and loses the familial connection
and empathetic need to reach out and locate one’s self
within each person. Blau quotes a social service researcher
for the State of Michigan who observed, “Statistics
is a grim business. Most of the time, it seems to me, people
resort to counting when they find things too horrible to
describe any other way.” 
Blau continues to discuss the problem of turning numbers
into causes. He writes, “Money can be spent for temporary
shelter, but not permanent housing, for emergency psychiatric
care, but not long-term stays in a mental hospital. The budgetary
constraints transform the function of the research. Blocked
by the financial obstacles to change, the research has often
fed the national inclination to objectify poor people. A
reliance on numbers exacerbates this tendency.” 
Described in this way, individuals who are homeless become
a thing rather than a person. This loss of identity is a major
feat to overcome.
In many ways, I feel like a child. I am overwhelmed with peace,
happiness, and sensations of all that is good whenever I look
at another human being. It is difficult for me to understand
the way in which people are transformed into numbers in order
for them to be shuffled and prioritized like cards, played
at the convenience of a few powerful adults. In The Little
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, one of my favorite books
of all time, he writes:
Grown-ups love figures. When you tell
them that you have made a new friend, they never ask you
any questions about essential matters. They never say to
does his voice sound like? What games does he love best? Does
he collect butterflies?’ Instead, they demand: ‘How
old is he? How many brothers has he? How much does he weigh?
How much money does his father make?’ Only
from these figures do they think they have learned anything
about him .
so, I find myself a Little Prince in a world full of grown-ups.
I want to pay attention to the wrinkles in someone’s
skin or the way their smile frames their eyes. These things,
I believe, are matters of great consequence. I have made the
decision to paint portraits of six sheltered and unsheltered
individuals living in Milwaukee and Chicago because I feel
it is important to save them from being lost to the language
of assumptions and percentages. I feel it is necessary to use
my paints as “pots of liquid flesh,” as
described by contemporary figurative painter, Jenny Saville ,
in order to capture and speak to that effervescent light of
nobility and strength being ignored, as those who are homeless
continue to be viewed one-dimensionally. In Tell Them
Who I Am,
a participant-observer study of the lives of single, homeless
women living in emergency shelters, author Elliot Liebow writes, “I
realized that [my aim] was to explain to both myself and others
how these women remained human in the face of inhuman conditions.
I had come to see how inadequate it was to think of them in
stereotypical terms such as ‘mentally ill’ or ‘alcoholics,’ as
incomplete persons deficient in morals or character, or even
as ‘disaffiliated’ persons, go-it-alone isolates
no longer connected with family or friends.” 
Through the creation of this body of work, I intend to deflate
the stigma of homelessness by reflecting upon the humanity
and individuality of each person: their smile or lack thereof,
their personal struggles as I have been told of them, and the
way they have seemed to center themselves in their own psychological
field in order to cope with the specific changes in their life.
Through my meditation on their individual lives, I wish to
describe to others the powerful nobility inherent in somehow
in the face of inhuman conditions.” I began to ask unsheltered
individuals who I had spoken with if they would like to participate.
I simultaneously became involved with the Hope House, a transitional
homeless shelter in Walker’s Point, and set up interviews
with two female residents there. After traveling down the complicated
donation avenue, I was informed that I would not be able to
give profits to individuals as I would have liked, but that
I could give a donation to the Hope House instead. I concluded
that I would give a percentage of sales to Hope House and also
accept additional donations for them.
“And as he traveled, he came near Damascus: and suddenly
there flashed around him a light from heaven.” (Acts
“I am on the road to Damascus,” Audrey [Figure
a forty-two year old mother, lesbian, former drill sergeant
and current resident at the Hope House, told me.
“Rise, and enter into the city, and it shall be told
thee what thou must do." (Acts 9:6) 
“I am here to get the lesson,” Audrey said, “so that one day I can be somebody’s hope. I am the Phoenix.”
Audrey was the first individual I spoke with at the Hope
House. She keeps to herself, but as soon as we started talking,
she couldn’t stop. She was very open with me, telling
me that she does not open up like this to just anyone. Audrey
was born in Mississippi, attended college at the Tuskegee Institute
of Alabama in 1981, moved to Lake County, Illinois, where she
says, “I thrive,” had a daughter in 1990 who is
now sixteen and absolutely beautiful, joined the Army in 1991
where she became a drill sergeant, was active for three years
and on reserve for three more, worked in Human Resources, and
eventually began to fall down a slippery path. She is a recovering
addict, and she has decided to stay at the Hope House for a
while in order to work some things out in her life. From what
I gathered from our conversation, Audrey became homeless when
her landlord forced her and her daughter out of their apartment.
Audrey explained, “She didn’t like the company
I kept.” She was on month-to-month rent when the landlord
refused to let her stay the next month.
Audrey told me she has a large family support system: the eldest of five children, and an auntie of one. Oprah, she told me, is even one of her cousins. “I was raised by a family,” she told me, “I was blessed.” Audrey is very close with her daughter, and showed me a portrait that was taken of them. The resemblance is striking. Despite these ties, Audrey feels she needs to be alone in order to “get the lesson.” She does not want to confuse those who are close to her or to wrap them up in her problems as she continues down her road to recovery. “Hurt people hurt people,” she said, “and I don’t want to hurt people.” Audrey is unbelievably strong and exciting and perseverant. She talks fast to avoid the stutter she had when she was younger, she speaks in metaphors, and everything she says sounds like poetry. Audrey told me of the changes she wants to make in her life. She told me how important it is to appreciate people while they are still alive. “Now I try to give people their flowers while they’re still here,” she said.
When one is in the presence of Audrey, it is like standing in the midst of a field bluebells in the early morning sun. It is a forward-looking day, open to possibilities of change. “Turn it over,” she would repeat to me while flipping her wrist back and forth. “We all have one side dark and one side light.”
Audrey is exciting in the way that her presence, her aura, her being, is electric, white hot, reflecting all colors at once. It is nothing short of a vivacious brilliance, produced from the struggle to walk, one foot in front of the next, through thick mud, falling and rising, learning and growing, in beauty and strength. “I am cut from a good cloth,” she told me. “My ancestors are ex-slaves, Indian, Creole, French, and Irish. They are not gonna back down, and I won’t either.”
As Audrey told me she is not here to make friends, I realized
that her brilliance is a secret one. I cannot help but think
of how many people are missing the experience of getting
to know her, of seeing her at her best.
Alice Walker, in her
essay, “In Full Bloom,” writes:
I believe people exist to be enjoyed, much as a restful
or engaging view might be. As the ocean or drifting clouds
might be. Or as if they were the human equivalent of melons,
mangoes, or any other kind of attractive, seductive fruit.
When I am in the presence of other human beings, I want to
revel in their creative and intellectual fullness, their
uninhibited social warmth. I want their precious human radiance
to wrap me in light. I do not want fear of war or starvation
or bodily mutilation to steal both my pleasure in them and
their own birthright. Everything I would like other people
to be for me, I want to be for them .
Alice Walker speaks of her activism, and says that she does
it so that she may enjoy people, and so that they will not
disappoint her. She says that it is their birthright to be
able to live to their fullest potential, as an attractive,
seductive fruit. Later in the essay, she tells us that not
to act is to miss experiencing people at their best, and writes
that this, “has never appealed to me.” 
It is for this reason that I paint Audrey and Diane, two of
the women living at Hope House, as well as James
[Figure 3], Pierre
Greg, and Shawn [Figure
four men living on the streets of Milwaukee and Chicago. The
everyday battle with homelessness and the stigma associated
with the condition prevents these individuals from growing,
in full bloom, and thus, prevents them from enjoying themselves,
and others experiencing them at their best.
Throughout my conversations with these six individuals, I
listened to their obstacles and to their daily routines. Diane
has congenital heart failure. She had her first heart attack
at the age of seventeen. She was diagnosed with breast cancer
in 2001 and is still battling it. This year, she had open heart
and lung surgery just six weeks apart. Her diaphragm and lung
were growing together and had to be separated. She also had
a collapsed lung, and sleeps with oxygen. Shortly after I started
my painting of her, she was taken to the hospital again because
she was having trouble breathing. She was denied on her first
disability claim to Social Security, and had to go to Hope
House because of her medical expenses. She has scars on her
front and back, clinical depression, was on OxyContin and morphine
for four months, has three grown children in Florida and California,
and cannot work forty hours a week because of her disabilities.
Pierre Gene is unsheltered and living on the East Side. One time over the summer, I sat on the sidewalk with him, and we shared a loaf of bread I brought home from my summer job. We both liked the butter because it was “real butter” and it tasted good on the asiago cheese bread. Later, I ran into him outside of Jimmy Johns on Brady Street. Our conversation was much different than our last one, as he was not on the medicine he was on that day during the summer. He told me that the government owes him money and that the police are going to make his sister leave his old apartment and leave the money she owes him there. He told me he wanted his money and his dog back. Over the summer, I had met his sister. When we were finishing the last of our bread, she walked up to us with a bag of clothes for him. She invited him home so he could get cleaned up. He seemed happy to see her, and we were introduced to each other. She seemed caring and very sweet. I have learned that these situations are very complicated, and to not presume to understand the complexities of such relationships. I am aware only of what I observe; Pierre Gene is well liked and is very popular on the East Side. As we sat, first at Jimmy Johns, and then, outside of Subway, he received waves and greetings from nearly everyone who walked past.
I met Greg on an Indian Summer day within a bitterly cold
week. He was sitting cross-legged in the grass with a hat
open for change. In it, he had some bits of coin and two yellow
wild flowers. Greg told and showed me that he lost his toe,
and said that the rest of his foot was no good either. He got
his last disability check denied because of a drunk driving
ticket and thirty days in jail in 1998. He told me he had “no
place for a while.” I was drawn to him because I had
never seen him around the East Side before. I was curious whether
or not he was newly homeless. Liebow discusses the visible
homeless (those who are chronically unsheltered), and describes
them as tragic caricatures of the homeless population. It is
easy to fall into homelessness, and it is a frightening time
for those newly homeless. Once one has been living on the streets
for so long, it becomes very difficult to work one’s
way out. Liebow writes, “A few of the women I met in
the shelters or on the street may have been on their way down
to join the caricature population. To my knowledge, I never
met anyone on the way up from there. This is not to say that
some do not recover nor that some will not do so in the future,
but the cards are stacked against them.” 
I showed Greg the photograph I took of him to see if he thought
it was acceptable. He said, “I look ornery.” I
asked, “Do you want to take one smiling?” He replied, “No,
I don’t know how to smile anymore.” A couple of
months later, I saw him through the window of the bus, sitting,
cross-legged, in the same spot. He was stained with the passage
of time on the streets. He looked much more tired.
James and Shawn are both from Chicago. I met James on my frequent travels back and forth from Milwaukee to Chicago, during the time my grandmother was dying. He collects change on Adams Street everyday. At night, he washes and waxes the floors of the building in front of which he sits. James plays basketball at the Boys Club, and has visited Milwaukee for their games. He has heard of the Hope House, from those who have moved to Chicago, and has heard it “helped out a lot of folks.” He is temporarily sleeping in a hotel. We have built a relationship of sorts, and I care about him. The last time I saw him, I was coming back from my grandmother’s funeral. He told me he had been thinking about us and had been wishing her well.
I met Shawn outside of Union Station once when I was waiting for a ride. I do not know much about him besides the fact that he calls James “The Hustler,” and that he stays outside the White Hen Pantry at 101 S. Clinton everyday. He gave me the address so that I could show him his painting when I finished. He said that once he helped some kids with a project on homelessness and that they got an A+ on it. He insisted on keeping all of his things with him so that people could see he was homeless. I offered him some of my microwaveable soups, and he laughed. “Look in here,” he told me. “I’ve got a whole suitcase filled with that stuff! Can’t find anywhere to microwave it!” Indeed, he did.
In discussing the homeless women Liebow met in the shelter,
he writes, “These, then—problems around sleeping,
fatigue, boredom, killing time, storage, finding and sustaining
jobs, health, sex, along with harassment and dozens of unpredictable
difficulties encountered on the street—were some of ‘the
little murders of everyday life’ that confronted homeless
These are just a sample of the problems that all of the individuals
I am painting face on a daily basis. I am interested in the
way in which these six people exist despite the numerous obstacles
they face. The center they find within themselves allows them
to navigate the streets and the waters of their existence.
I have thought about this center as a psychological, almost
meditational field that allows individuals to retain their
humanity despite the troubles of not having a home or, in many
cases, a family, as being homeless is sometimes a direct result
of, and equated with, being family-less. Liebow writes, “For
most women, living with relatives or receiving significant
financial or other support from them was the last stage in
their descent into homelessness.” 
The psychological fields, a necessary constant in these six people’s lives, vary from one individual to the next, but seem to have consistent attributes. I envision these places as fields of flowers: both wildflowers and gardens. The environments are surreal and fantastical, containing the character, vitality, and consciousness of the individual within it. In this way, they differ in color, chroma, season, and space. Some spaces are flatter while others are vast.
In the paintings I am making, each individual is placed within their personal psychological field, based on my perception of them and their life as they relayed it to me. I understand the needs of a flower to be, in many ways, similar to the needs of a human being: that of sunshine, water, nutrients, and soil for its roots. There are parallels that can be drawn pertaining to the fragility but surprising strength and endurance of flowers, fighting to survive against weeds, changes in climate, and hostile conditions. The beauty that is produced from the meeting of the most basic of these conditions and the struggle to find a location that will allow them to be met is beyond compare and, upon noticing it one can come to appreciate the truth, humility, honesty, and brilliance in nature.
Each portrait is painted in oil paint using traditional mediums. The physicality of the paint and my response to the panels and canvasses on which they are painted, changes with the affect each individual had on me. In painting James, I have allowed for more opaque areas, more untamed areas, and a vibrant pallette. This is due to his specific beauty and the nomadic garden he seemed to carry with him, airily rooting himself. When painting Diane, I responded to her delicate health and constant battle with her body. She is placed in a transitional period between Winter and Spring, inside and outside. The colors are beautiful but faint, vibrant in some areas and nearly washed away in others. It is a tender place where she dwells, a place that is forever on the edge of health and illness, having a home and being homeless, being homeless but believing otherwise. Curiously, Diane was one of many individuals at the shelter who did not consider herself homeless, but rather, in a transitional period. She, herself, is a lightly constructed lady, a soft pink breathed into her cheeks, and hands that seem malleable. She is nurturing, once insisting that I borrow her sweatshirt after getting caught in a rainstorm. In response to this, I have painted her lightly, using the oil paint in thin layers, similar to watercolor.
This body of work is very much about unity, interconnection,
and a universal identity. I understand humankind to be intrinsically
bound to one another, sharing the same cosmic origins and evolving,
as a species, through the same structural changes undergone
by our environment. In The Evolution of Consciousness,
Kishore Gandhi writes, “Stars must die before organisms
can live. In their deaths they generate the elements that come
to compose the sun, its planets, and ourselves. The sun’s
metabolism powers our metabolism. The salts of ancient seas
run in our blood. We see the universe not from outside but
from inside; its history is our history, its stuff our stuff.” 
Human beings are physically born from and are bound to the
universe, to the cosmos, and are inevitably elementally united
to one another. In his book, The Life Era: Cosmic Selection
and Conscious Evolution, Astrophysicist Eric Chaisson
writes, “Innumerable stars have perished to create the
matter now composing our world. We ourselves are made of atoms
fused in the hearts of stars.” 
Swiss psychologist Carl Jung’s theory of the collective
unconscious discusses humankind’s ancient connections
as being buried in the very deepest realm of our unconscious.
He terms this realm, the collective unconscious, as it describes
modes of behavior such as common feelings, emotions, and reactions
which transcend all human beings, and represent the very foundation
of humankind. He labels these modes of behavior “archetypes,” and
states that they are, “the accumulated experiences of
organic life in general, a million times repeated, and condensed
into types. In these archetypes, therefore, all experiences
are represented which have happened on this planet since primeval
In this way, our cosmic heritage is manifested in our daily
behaviors and our everyday lives, existing as a constant reminder
of humankind’s interconnection.
The ideologies of cosmic evolution, the collective unconscious,
Universalism, and Humanism pervade my work and my relationships
with the individuals I have met and continue to meet each day.
While each portrait is primarily specific to the individual,
each also operates on a secondary iconographic level, in that
it speaks to concentric circles, representative of masses of
people. Within each individual is a vast number of individuals,
so that within one person is all of humankind. Perhaps within
the first circle are individuals who are also sheltered, or
in another painting, unsheltered. Within the next are those
who fall into a similar socio-economic bracket, living in poverty
or about to be homeless. “In Chicago, it is estimated
(1989) that 50,000 to 100,000 additional tenants are living
illegally in 40,000 public housing units.” 
Each circle becomes broader until the individual is examined
as a symbol for all of humanity, and the viewer begins to identify
his or herself within that person, therefore eliminating the
sense of understanding the individual to be “other” than
one’s self. “I am large, I contain multitudes,” writes
Walt Whitman .
By painting my subjects life size or larger, I am adhering
to the specificity of their individuality, yet am creating
a two-dimensional image of that person, that has the potential
to be viewed as iconic or symbolic of humanity en masse.
One aspect of Humanism is described as a “commitment
to individual and social ethics that are based on changing
human experience, compassion for other human beings, and concern
for the related world of humankind and Earth.” 
I have been influenced by artists whose work exudes this passion
and focus, affirming the dignity of each human being. In particular,
this body of work has been greatly affected by the photography
of Richard Avedon (1923-2004), who began as a fashion photographer,
but grew as a fine artist. He is famous for his traveling exhibit
of large-scale prints (three feet and larger), taken in 1979-84
and entitled, In the American West. This later became
a best-selling book.
In his body of work, Avedon documented the lives of miners,
cowboys, drifters, wildcatters, adolescents, and slaughterhouse
workers living in the Western United States at that time. The
images reveal humankind’s nobility and grit. Avedon states, “Sometimes
I think all my pictures are just pictures of me. My concern
is . . . the human predicament; only what I consider the human
predicament may simply be my own.” 
The identification of himself within others is apparent in
this work, and it is transferred onto the viewer. This is a
goal of my present body of work, and of all the figurative
work I do.
As a part of life, I have tried to make myself aware of what is being born, what is barely living, what is thriving, and what is dying all around me. On any given day, there is much of this to recognize and absorb. As a student, artist, twenty-two year old, daughter, U.S. citizen, Canadian citizen, friend, and human being, I am influenced by the past, present and future, by politics, culture, philosophy, the arts, human needs, desires and emotions, nature, and the whole of humankind. Above all, I am influenced by the lives of people around me and the history of individual and societal choices that are made every day, and which direct the path of a person’s life.
As a contemporary painter, I believe it is important to be
a listener, observer, and participant. I believe that if one
encompasses this triad, he or she is in a good position to
use art to enhance both one’s own life as well as the
lives of others. Though personally, I feel it is important
to use the privilege of a visual, universal language in order
to give voice to those who are largely unheard by contemporary
society, I am adamantly against the notion of the personally
expressionistic or cathartic artist as being “selfish,” “isolated,” or
somehow frivolous. Rather, I believe that anything that is
created is a drop of rain, aiding in the growth of at least
one new blade of grass. Post-minimalist painter Richard Tuttle
once said, “You’ve made something, when before
there was nothing.” 
The act of creation is a way of enhancing the life of the artist.
From this, one can grow, become a better observer, a more concerned
human being, and a more enriched person. This growth and learning
is transferred into that individual’s relationships and
into the community. Whether a piece is viewed as successful
or unsuccessful, it is a necessary creation and tool, and,
whether used directly or indirectly, can only serve to strengthen
I agree with Alice Walker, in that, for me, painting is a
way to revel in the creative and intellectual fullness of other
human beings. As she has said before me, “I want their
precious human radiance to wrap me in light.” 
I paint to celebrate blossoming human radiance, and strive
to make the invisible visible. This body of work is as much
a meditation and tribute to life and humanity, as it is a documentation
of the lives of six individuals and a call for compassion.
I believe that there is truth in one whose belly has been scraped
by the sea, yet pushes forward, unceasingly, tattooed by the
sands and stones of the deep. Through this recognition of beauty
and strength, there is the possibility that others will wish
to help men and women reach full bloom, so that, they, themselves,
might enjoy and relish the brilliant beauty of humankind a
Steven Smith, “Wise Navigating Through Change: A Meditative
Perspective.” Vipassana Hawai’i.
14 November, 2006, <http://www.vipassanahawaii.org>.
Untouchables: History. 13 November, 2006, <http//www.untouchables.org>.
Milwaukee Continuum of Care. “Under the Radar: A Survey
of Homeless Adults in Milwaukee.” Homelessness
Facts. The Open Gate. January 2004, <http://www.theopengate.org/facts> (accessed
Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass (Ann Arbor: Borders
Group, 2001.): 44.
Joel Blau. The Visible Poor: Homelessness in the United
States ( New York: Oxford University Press, 1992): 3.
Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince ( New
York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1961): 17-18.
Roberts., “The Saatchi Artists: The Female
Gaze: Jenny Saville,” Guardian Unlimited Arts.
20 Apr. 2003, <http://www.arts.guardian.co.uk/saatchi> (accessed
Elliot Liewbow, Tell Them Who I Am ( New York: The
Free Press, 1993): 1.
Holy Bible, American Standard Version. New York: Thomas
Nelson and Sons, 1901.
Alice Walker, “In Full Bloom,” The Nation,
20 Sept. 2004, <http://www/thenation.com/docprem.mhml?i=20040920&s=walker> (accessed
Elliot Liewbow, Tell Them Who I Am ( New York: The
Free Press, 1993): 2.
Kishore Gandhi, The Evolution of Consciousness (New
York: Paragon House, 1983): 5.
Eric Chaisson, The Life Era: Cosmic Selection and Conscious
Evolution (New York: WW Norton and Company, 1987): 12.
Quoted in Walter A. Shelburne, Mythos and Logos in the
Thought of Carl Jung: The Theory of the Collective Unconscious
in Scientific Perspective (Albany, NY: State University
of New York Press, 1988): 54.
See Liewbow, Tell Them Who I Am: 82.
See Whitman, Leaves of Grass: 34.
Harvey Lebrun, “Humanism with a Capital H.” American
Humanist Association, <http://www.americanhumanist.org/humanism/lebrun.html>
(accessed April 20, 2007).
Avedon," <http://www.temple.edu/photo.photographers/avedon/Avedon.html> (accessed
November 14, 2006)
Chris Maybach, Richard Tuttle: Never Not an Artist.
See Walker, “In Full Bloom,” The Nation,
20 Sept. 2004, <http://www/thenation.com/docprem.mhml?i=20040920&s=walker> (accessed
Audrey. Personal Interview. October 10, 2006.
Avedon, Richard. “Richard Avedon." <http://www.temple.edu/photo.photographers/avedon/Avedon.html> (accessed
November 14, 2006).
Balinsky, Al. Personal Interview. October 2005.
Blau, Joel. The Visible Poor: Homelessness in the United
States. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.
Chaisson, Eric. The Life Era: Cosmic Selection and Conscious Evolution.
New York: WW Norton and Company, 1987.
Chartier, Greg. Personal Interview. September 27, 2006.
Cunningham, Imogen. After Ninety. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1979.
Darby, William. Evan Uglow. London: Browse and Darby, 1999.
Diane. Personal Interview. October 27, 2006.
Feaver, William. Lucian Freud. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2002.
Gandhi, Kishore. The Evolution of Consciousness. New York: Paragon House, 1983.
The Holy Bible, American Standard Version. New York: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1901.
Hudson, James. Personal Interview. October 2006.
Jones, Shawn. Personal Interview. September 29, 2006.
Lebrun, Harvey. “Humanism with a Capital H.” American
Humanist Association. <http://www.americanhumanist.org/humanism/lebrun.html>(accessed
April 20, 2007).
Liewbow, Elliot. Tell Them Who I AM. New York: The Free Press, 1993.
Livingston, Jane. The New York School: Photographers 1936-1963.
New York: Stewart, Tabori & Chang,
Maybach, Chris. Richard Tuttle: Never Not an Artist. (V) 2005.
Milwaukee Continuum of Care. “Under the Radar: A
Survey of Homeless Adults in Milwaukee.” Homelessness
Facts. The Open Gate. January 2004,<http://www.theopengate.org/facts>(accessed
Pierre Gene. Personal Interview. October 11, 2006.
Roberts, Allison. “The Saatchi Artists: The Female
Gaze: Jenny Saville.” Guardian Unlimited Arts.
20 April, 2003, <http://www.arts.guardian.co.uk/saatchi>(accessed
Sagne Jean. Gericault. Paris: Fayard Press, 1991.
Saint-Exupery, Antoine de. The Little Prince. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1961.
Shelburne, Walter A. Mythos and Logos in the Thought of
Carl Jung: The Theory of the Collective Unconscious in Scientific
Perspective. Albany: State University of New York Press,
Smith, Steven. “Wise Navigating Through Change: A
Meditative Perspective.” Vipassana Hawai’i.
14 November, 2006, <http://www.vipassanahawaii.org>.
Untouchables. The Untouchables: History. 13 Nov. 2006, <http//www.untouchables.org>.
Walker, Alice. “In Full Bloom.” The Nation.
20 September, 2004, <http://www/thenation.com/docprem.mhml?i=20040920&s=walker>
(accessed October 2006).
Whitman, Walt. Leaves of Grass. Ann Arbor: Borders Group, Inc., 2001.
Zevitas, Steven T. New American Paintings. Print
No. 65 (2006). Boston: The Open Studios Press.
*Casey Davidge is a senior
at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, graduating in
May 2007. [Return]
Edited by Sarah Clark and Alicia Deleon.
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