Portraits From The Shelterby Polly Leonard
Artist James Fox has been volunteering at Lancaster and District Homeless Action Service for the last two years. The service is committed to helping homeless people and rough-sleepers find accommodation and learn the life skills essential for independent living.
"To begin with, I helped in the kitchen giving out breakfasts and preparing lunch for the clients who use the centre. Initially, I wanted to use the time working in the kitchen and get some time away from making art in the studio. But the staff, knowing I was a working artist, asked if I would deliver a few art/craft workshops for the clients. Tentatively, I stepped from behind the kitchen counter to engage with the clients as a working artist.
"I proposed that we make some cards and gift items that maybe we could sell to bring some extra funds and publicity. It was difficult at first as I had expectations of the clients that did not suit their sometimes chaotic situation. So, I would begin the project on my own and the clients eventually gravitated towards what I was doing, and if they were interested they would engage with the activity. This seemed to give them the freedom to dip in and out as they liked and for me to not feel pressured to deliver with a teacher/pupil based relationship.
"I started taking photographs of as many clients as I could and then began a series of quick drawings using different techniques i.e. pen and ink, pencil, paint. Afte,r that I moved on to working on the sewing machine using a free straight stitch to sketch with. I wanted to try and keep the individuality of the sitter I had uncovered in producing the pencil drawings. I made the work to celebrate the shelter guests as individuals who, when you get to know them, can display a richness of human values and take the opportunity to laugh far more than a lot of people."
Guest blog by James Fox.