Homeless artist lands exhibition

Homeless artist lands exhibition
Brendan Rees

Until a few weeks ago, Bill, who experiences homelessness, never imagined his artwork would be “worthy of such publicity”.

But after taking a leap of faith and sticking some of his drawings on the window of North Melbourne’s pop-up Errol Street Gallery, it has given him a fresh start in life.

“I thought it was a kid taking the mickey out of me,” gallery curator Min Simankevicius said when he initially found the sketches, but still he “respected the work and put it aside.”

A few days later, Bill, 50, who had consciously avoided the gallery because he felt so ashamed, took the courageous step of walking through the doors and striking up a conversation with Mr Simankevicius.

“He’s very intelligent, his mind can flick from one thing to another very quickly. He’s got an incredible memory for detail, music, artists, everything,” Mr Simankevicius said.

“The third day he came in, he brought in another picture, and I looked at it and thought ‘oh my god, this is pretty incredible stuff’.

“To put that intense detailing into something that looks like manic madness is brilliant madness – it’s not stupid madness, it’s not drunken madness, it’s actually calculated.”

With “complete admiration” for his work, Mr Simankevicius decided to frame Bill’s collage artwork for exhibiting, which “brought on an overwhelming, emotional moment because nobody had actually paid respect for him up until that moment”.

“He thought the world of me. He’s basically smitten by the whole concept of being accepted as an artist,” he said.

Bill was thrilled with the recognition as his collage piece went on to be auctioned off at the gallery, which adjoins the Lithuanian community centre.

It earned Bill some cash that he otherwise would never have expected, but most importantly it gave him a sense of purpose and a much-needed confidence boost.

“It’s life-changing but it’s also very, very challenging because I have to do artwork that is worthy of such publicity,” Bill said, who asked not to use his surname.

He described Mr Simankevicius as a mentor and friend and respected the fact that he was “brutally honest with how he reacts to my work,” which was influenced by “putting something ridiculous or awkward on a page and then making it work”.

“If I’m really serious about improving as an artist then there is a lot of room for improvement. I will swallow my ego and I will listen, and I will take that on board.”

While the experience has been life-changing,

Bill said he would not be in the position he was in today if it wasn’t for the help he received from Flagstaff Crisis Accommodation Centre in West Melbourne.

“When I was unresponsive and completely non-compliant to them in helping me, they still were patient, they were still kind, and they never judged me.”

He also thanked the kindness of the staff at The Living Room, a drop-in centre in the CBD, providing healthcare, toilets, shower and laundry facility, housing support, and more •

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