Across the Venice Beach boardwalk from me there is a person in a different world. She seems to be erratically experiencing the entire scope of human emotion. She strikes dramatic poses every few seconds. I begin to sketch her. She gets closer to me and now I can hear her. She is rambling incoherent stories that often involve characters named Lisa. Detached from everything and everyone on the busy boardwalk, she shares her stream of thoughts unaware that today she is witnessed. I furiously transcribe every word I can. A man passing by says to her “hello Lisa”, for a moment she is in our world and replies “hello” before fading back to her private reality. For over six hours she is my muse.

Lisa is a schizophrenic homeless person. These are portraits of the many Lisas I witnessed that day.

This experience had a profound effect on me. Upon returning to my studio I began to sort through my gesture sketches and scribbled quotes. Part of her seems trapped in a dark history of violence and religion. Other Lisas are free. Free of society, free of fear or judgment, and free of the self. She becomes a living expression of the breadth of human experience from the most peaceful and jovial to the most bitter and disturbed. She is a sister, a mother, a Shakespearean queen, a fallen angel, a dancer, a storyteller, a hungry person. Yet in a way she is not a person at all but a part of the Venice beach scenery. A ghost. You have walked by Lisa and not seen her. She does not see you either.  

Lisa exists though and despite being in a crowded place she performs her ritual of existence not to be seen but just to be. While I can’t tell you exactly why it is important that Lisa be seen. Or what she has to teach us. What I saw that day was the rawest and truest form of expression I have ever seen.