Tonawanda News

October 31, 2013

NACC artist brings the homeless into the light

By Michele DeLuca
The Tonawanda News

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. 

“I wanted the media to reflect the whole concept of home and homelessness,” Wolfe said. Artspace, where the exhibit is being held, is a low cost residence for area artists, at 1219 Main St., in Buffalo. Local artist and writer J. Tim Raymond, president of the resident’s board at Artspace, has been helping Wolfe organize the exhibit.  

Raymond says the exhibit helps to draw attention to homelessness, a subject which many tend to avoid. “We want people to understand there’s a very large population that are marginalized to the point where we’re up against it with them,” he said. “And we really  need to address the situation.” 

The prints will be for sale and part of the proceeds and donations from the event will go to a battered women’s safe house, but Wolfe hopes the exhibit will move people beyond a monetary considerations to thoughts of the lives of his subjects.  He has invited an array of people from government and community leaders along with area artists and all of those depicted in his exhibition.  He wants everyone in the same room, sharing the same space.

“My new mantra is ‘there is no they — it’s all us,’” Wolfe said.


• WHAT: "Out of Darkness" exhibit opening by Gary Wolfe

• WHEN: 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Nov. 1 through Dec. 31

• WHERE: Artspace Buffalo Gallery, 1219 Main St., Buffalo

• MORE INFO: Call Artspace at 706-9152