Why I Do This

“I’m sensitive to the human condition and suffering… I want to do what I can do, and this is what I can do.”

Story of Neil Shigley

I believe it’s our life experiences that connect us to our artistic expression. I know that’s true for me. My early inspiration was observing my father’s passion for art and culture wherever he was. However, it was my education that gave me the skills and confidence to pursue my artistic ideas. My career as an illustrator is responsible for most of my proficiency in creating art, specifically portraits.

I am an artist, painter, printmaker and educator who lives in South Park with a studio in Golden Hill. I studied painting and printmaking at San Diego State University before attending Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design on a full scholarship. I graduated with honors and became the first commencement speaker in the school’s history.

During my time in New York City, I worked as an award-winning freelance illustrator several Fortune-500 companies. Much of my fine art focuses on the human condition and figure, which has been exhibited internationally. I currently teach art at San Diego State University.

My large-scale portraits are an ongoing effort in a series called Invisible People, which focuses on bringing this largely ignored and shunned population to the forefront of conversations in San Diego and nationwide.

The Invisible Series art documents people from the opposite end of the spectrum-the underprivileged and forgotten-the homeless. Chronic homelessness is a complex issue.

The Invisible People series which began in 2005 has been publicized locally in the San Diego airport, San Diego History Museum, California center for the Arts and the  Oceanside Museum, as well as in galleries and museums in Boston, Los Angeles, Washington DC, Portland and Syracuse.

My Purpose

Art has the power to focus attention. It’s my intention through the art I produce to connect people who might not otherwise ever come face to face. Whether this relationship is created through eyes of desperation, a grimace of pain or glimpse of hope, my goal is to facilitate that worthwhile encounter.

It’s never a childhood dream to live out one’s existence on the street. Each of these individuals at some point in their lives, had a family, friends and a home with four walls.

Now their story is their plight. It’s my hope that presenting the faces of homelessness on a large scale, we as a community are forced to confront the situation that so many find themselves in. The vision for my art is to bring vulnerable men, women and children into focus, once again making them visible.

It’s in the moment-by-moment pursuit of contemplating and making art where I find the most joy. As an artist, the greatest honor I could receive is to know that a piece of my work touched somebody in some small way.

Ideally this work raises funding and awareness for the accessibility, diversity and equity of a largely ignored population who are in desperate need of assistance.

What I’ve Learned

Each person that I have met on the street has a unique reason for why they’re there and why they may not be able to return as a contributing member to society. I feel fortunate in a lot of ways with my upbringing and the life I’m living today, especially now that I’ve seen what the alternative is.

Many Americans are just a few, if not one, paycheck away from being homeless and with the pandemic exacerbating the economy-that sobering reality now hits closer to home.  {this good for now but may be dated soon}

That being said, awareness can bring change for people who are for the most, part forgotten.

The resilience that seems to be embedded in the homeless demographic is remarkable to me. Despite many of these individuals being all alone, I’ve spoken to plenty of them who still somehow find a place for hope and joy. 

Art has the power to change the world because art has the ability to change the human heart, which moves people into action. The help we provide to someone in need can dramatically change their world. 

Giving money, energy, time, resources, kindness, or even acknowledgement can improve life for someone living on the street.

Giving Back/Community Impact

I have a particular passion to improve the lives of children and youth, especially those at risk and homeless. I donate a portion of every portrait sale to the Monarch School in San Diego, which provides an education for homeless children and teens.

I’ve also volunteered to teach art at the Polinsky Children’s Center in San Diego, a temporary emergency shelter for newborns to 18-year-olds, who are separated from their parents. 

In addition, I have an ongoing relationship with Father Joe’s Village, for which I’ve created portraits for multiple Children’s Charity Gala auctions to help raise critical awareness and funding for programs serving homeless children.

I’ve also worked with People Assisting the Homeless (PATH), which provides housing for homeless and donated a portion of all sales to this organization during one of my exhibitions.

A portion of every sale from the Invisible People series, is donated to one of several non-profit organizations that help and highlight the homeless crisis. While every purchase is something the collector can enjoy and admire, it can also inspire an intimately shared viewing with others.

In addition, each portrait purchased enables the artist to continue with this series, perpetuating a more profound discussion and perspective surrounding the issue of chronic homelessness.