July 14, 2007

A Portrait of Poverty

To an artist, homelessness, like war and poverty, is a powerful subject. Every day, we pass people with no where to call home; some of us notice them, others pay no mind. But they are part of our world and their colourful stories are brush strokes on the portrait of our city.

About six years ago, painter Jacqueline K Crofton sat in Camden's soup kitchen eating lunch with a group who shared their experiences. Afterwards, she was able to sketch and photograph some of them and, over the next year, developed a series of large charcoal and oil paintings on flax, which she called Street People. This controversial series is not for everyone.

Many of these people use shelters at night. Others are called “rough sleepers”, the ones you see in doorways and under bridges. You may have wondered how they got there and why they have not been able to escape that life.

In 2004, St. Mungo's conducted a survey on 1,534 people without homes. What they found helped explain the tangled web of problems that sends them to the streets. The most common reason has to do with broken relationships that were destroyed by or spiralled into drug and alcohol abuse, behavioural problems and both physical and mental illness. Their research found 40% of homeless people have a mental health problem and just over 1/3 have issues with substance abuse. 48% have been without permanent housing for two or more years, 17% for more than 10 years.
London offers a number of support groups that help unemployed homeless men and women find jobs. Some sell The Big Issue from which 80p per sale goes into their own pocket. They are often stuck in unemployment because they have no permanent mailing address, poor hygiene, no money for interview clothes and educational problems.

But Jaq's reasoning behind painting this series was not for it to be a social commentary as much as to create a composition of a darker, yet inevitable, reality. The rate of homelessness in London is twice as high as the rest of England and far greater than Government statistics indicate, according to the charity Crisis who estimates approximately 400,000 homeless in Great Britain.

There is a stark contrast in London, even in this borough alone. Here, we have the up-market neighbourhood of Hampstead, and just around the corner, you find Camden soup kitchen.
Street People (below), on display now at Jiq Jaq Gallery in Hampstead, is a powerful collection, in both size and subject matter. http://www.jiqjaq.com/

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