Thursday, October 29, 2009

Artist's statement for HOME? - opening 11.11.09

I am fascinated by the notion of “home.” Is it a physical place, a building, a structure, a house? Is it a state of being, a sense of safety, of being provided for, of identity? And what does it mean to be homeless: practically, spiritually, emotionally?

Since 1993 I’ve been buying and collecting homeless signs from people on the streets, in subways, under bridges, in cities near and far. It began from an awkwardness I felt when I’d pull up to an intersection and encounter a person holding a sign, asking for help. Like many people I wrestled with whether or not I was doing good by giving them money, wondered if they would spend the money on food or alcohol or drugs. Mostly I struggled with my moral obligations, and how my own choices contributed in conscious or unconscious ways to the poverty I was witnessing. I struggled with the unfairness of the lives people are born into, the physical, mental and psychological handicaps. And in my struggle I often avoided eye contact with those on the street, unwilling to really “see” them, and in doing so avoided seeing parts of myself.

All of that changed once I began asking them if they were willing to sell their signs. Immediately the dynamic changed between us, as we both had something the other wanted. I became very comfortable with the negotiations, and ultimately very comfortable in conversation with the homeless. I began to see them and hear them, and realized how vastly different they (and their stories) were. Some of my encounters were quite touching, and years later I can still remember many of them: the woman who cried telling me that the sign I’d bought had been made by her late husband, the many who asked me why I wanted the signs and were fascinated and inquisitive about using them in artwork, the very intoxicated man who wanted to autograph the sign before turning it over. My relationship to the homeless has been powerfully altered.

As a graphic designer for much of my professional career, I also marveled at the typography of the signs themselves, and the messages that were written. Wondering about the choices made by each person in the way they wrote, the size and legibility of the letters, the words they decided mattered enough to be on the signs. And occasionally the drawings, the humor, the typos.

I see the signs now as signposts of my own journey, inward and outward, of reconciling my life and my judgments with the plight of the homeless, and even with the notions of home, goodness, and compassion. Part of the passion that drives me to share this work with others is so that they too might examine their own.

Willie Baronet


  1. Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just--
    But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God.
    For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind?
    And behold, even at this time, ye have been calling on his name, and begging for a remission of your sins. And has he suffered that ye have begged in vain? Nay; he has poured out his Spirit upon you, and has caused that your hearts should be filled with joy, and has caused that your mouths should be stopped that ye could not find utterance, so exceedingly great was your joy.
    And now, if God, who has created you, on whom you are dependent for your lives and for all that ye have and are, doth grant unto you whatsoever ye ask that is right, in faith, believing that ye shall receive, O then, how ye ought to impart of the substance that ye have one to another.
    And if ye judge the man who putteth up his petition to you for your substance that he perish not, and condemn him, how much more just will be your condemnation for withholding your substance, which doth not belong to you but to God, to whom also your life belongeth; and yet ye put up no petition, nor repent of the thing which thou hast done.
    I say unto you, wo be unto that man, for his substance shall perish with him... (Mosiah 4:17-23)

  2. Thank you anonymous, for this post. It is spot on. Blessings.