By Elizabeth White
ArtRage, Syracuse’s non-traditional art gallery that invites artists from all over the globe, recently exhibited “Invisible People.” This exhibition shows the faces of individuals whom society has forgotten: the homeless.
“Invisible People” features large-scale portraits of homeless individuals that Californian artist Neil Shigley encountered in San Diego. Each portrait is displayed with a plaque about how Shigley met the person and what his experience with them was like.
An art teacher by day and a figure art specialist by night, Shigley’s work has been praised both nationally and internationally, earning him an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. Apart from figure art, Shigley specializes in the human condition. “By presenting these faces on a large scale, we are forced to confront them and the situation that so many like them find themselves,” Shigley said in an artist statement about the exhibit.
Shigley used printmaking to create each portrait with plexiglass as the medium, giving each art piece a unique texture. “As a human being, I can’t help but feel compassion for these individuals and by presenting them in this large format, perhaps, it will bring them into focus – making them visible,” Shigley said.
The art exhibit brings into focus the issue of poverty, which is a personal reality for many in Syracuse. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s latest report on 2017, Syracuse is in a three-way tie with two other cities for the ninth poorest city in the U.S. The poverty rate in Syracuse is 32.4 percent, compared to the national average of 12.3 percent.
With one out of three residents of Syracuse living in poverty, homelessness is common. According to the Point in Time Count, an annual count of homeless people in Syracuse conducted on one single night in late January, there were 425 single homeless adults in 2018, up from 367 in the previous year.
Although the people featured in Shigley’s portraits are not people of Syracuse, the exhibit confronts a hard-hitting issue for the Salt City.
For many, it is easy to ignore homeless people on the streets who ask for money. But Shigley’s exhibit challenges the viewer to do just the opposite and see them as the real people that they are.
Invisible People will be on display at ArtRage on Hawley Ave. in Syracuse until Oct. 27.