Tonawanda News

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October 31, 2013

NACC artist brings the homeless into the light

BUFFALO — Faces of the homeless fill Gary Wolfe’s home studio.

In his depictions, there is often both light and darkness, weariness and optimism, and a beauty that might seem unlikely to be found among the disenfranchised on inner city streets.

The Town of Tonawanda artist, whose show  “Out of the Darkness,” opens at 6 p.m. Friday at Artspace in Buffalo, is Wolfe’s effort to present the humanity in each of his subjects. His intent is to bring awareness that each human may only be a single catastrophe away from the dire circumstances of those he paints. 

Reproduced from portraits he took with his camera on city streets, each painting includes a quote from its subject.

“My life wasn’t supposed to be like this,” a woman named Katie told Wolfe one night on a Buffalo street. “I did everything the right way and look what happened,” she said. Wolfe remembers Katie as surprisingly cheerful when they spoke, considering she had been beaten up the night before.

Wolfe, who also has a studio at the Niagara Arts and Cultural Center in Niagara Falls, has an affinity for the poor and the homeless. He talks with them, learns their stories and then shares their lives with his paint brushes.

“My art is informed by the fact that I spent 28 years in human services,” he said. “I’ve always been interested in the vulnerable, the marginalized and the disparity in our world.”

Wolfe, now retired, has painted 28 faces for his new exhibit, which will include a makeshift homeless camp. Some of the subjects in the paintings will be present at the exhibit opening to give visitors the opportunity to join them as they recline on sleeping bags or sit on buckets. 

The paintings are created with oils and beeswax on tar paper roofing materials, to reference the idea of homes and roofs over people’s heads. 

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