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.
My artist statement could not contain all of my reflection on that day in Venice Beach. A week after my return to San Diego I could not shake Lisa. She had taken root in my brain. I had to work out just what it was that affected me so much. So I spent much of the next eight weeks sculpting her.
First I think it is important to address the setting of Venice Beach. It is paradise and has attracted people of all sort, becoming a haven for free expression. The place is a freak show full of street artists, musicians, and plenty of homeless. Crowded with tourists the boardwalk buzzes with energy. Next to me there is a painter, some older gentlemen selling healing stones and a large reggae drumming group. Amidst all of this Lisa stood out as the strangest most interesting person there. She was in tune with the overall energy of that place leading me to believe she has been a long time resident. She seemed to embody Venice Beach. A Venice Beach that is quickly disappearing due a large police presence in an effort to ‘clean it up’.
It was interesting to me how people avoided Lisa. She scared people. Not because there was anything particularly threatening about her but because she was so unpredictable. Her emotions were so chaotic and confusing it was as if people thought they would be infected by her. That their sane orderly lives would dissolve in the face of such insanity. I understand people’s aversion to her. It is off-putting to think that it is possible for a person to lose their grip on reality. It occurred to me though as I studied Lisa that we all have our own realities and they are all different. Everyone sees the world through their own tinted lens.
It also became clear to me that we all have voices in our heads. Different versions of ourselves that are woven together like so many strings that in most people make up the self. Lisa reminds me that these strings can unravel and that we are all prisoners of the mind.
This has been a unique expression of art for me. Because of the documentary aspect of the show it has a darkness that I have not expressed before. I felt though that it was important to stay true to the material I collected. While the darkness is apparent I found that there was a deep spirituality to Lisa and that she had a real hope for redemption. As I sorted through the quotes that I recorded I found that they captured Lisa’s story in a poetic way. While the sculptures are my expression of Lisa the quotes are directly from her. The connection to the source material was important to me. A forced collaboration with Lisa herself.
Finally, I don’t know much about the psychology of schizophrenia and although the work is part documentary the purpose was never to bring attention to homelessness and mental health. This is the post-script though and given the subject matter I believe it is important to address the disregard of the homeless. My studio is in East Village in San Diego and is the center of the homeless population. I have interactions with the homeless almost every day. They often approach me about my work and show great interest and appreciation for the arts. If you pay attention to them you will see that they are real people. Although I have a great family and large support network it is easy to see how someone a little less fortunate could easily end up in the street while trying to pursue their dream. This is a sad reality that seems severely neglected.
As always, thank you for reading. If you like my work please share it with people it is a great way to support artists. The more people who see it the better.