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HomeVenues ArchivesTemporary Spaces ArchiveSt Helens: Simon A Yorke: Nomads - Portraits of Homeless People

St Helens: Simon A Yorke: Nomads – Portraits of Homeless People

Simon A Yorke ‘Nomads’
Sunday 24 January – Sunday 7 February 2016
Various locations across St. Helens

The piercing gaze of homeless people forms the basis for a thought-provoking exhibition throughout various venues in St Helens town centre to coincide with Homeless Sunday (24th January) and Poverty Action Week (25th – 31st January).

Mission In The Economy is staging its largest art display to date, Nomads, which encourages visitors to focus on the oft-forgotten people who live on our country’s streets.
The striking pieces are from the paintbrush of artist Simon Yorke who photographed homeless people he encountered outside the Tate Modern gallery in London and used the photos to create large portraits.

The Merseyside artist’s work will be on display throughout St Helens town centre until 7th February and a further exhibition of the artworks will be hosted in The World of Glass later in the year.

Simon, who studied art at the prestigious Central Saint Martins in London, said: “The pieces started life in London when I met homeless people begging outside of Tate Modern.
“Portraits are usually of people who are loved and revered, but what’s interesting is that the people in these portraits don’t have anyone to love them, they’re ignored by society.
“I painted the eyes first because people often look away from homeless people, they don’t want to make eye contact with them. I’m hoping these portraits will help change that, that people will make eye contact.

“I approached each of the people and asked if I could photograph them. I never saw any of them again and they have never seen the finished portrait, but that fits in with the exhibition, because they are transient.”

The portraits have so far been displayed in London, Paris and Liverpool.

Rev Dr Chris Daniel McKeigue, St Helens Town Centre Chaplain from Mission In The Economy, said:
“This is the first time we have had an exhibition of this size and it looks fabulous.
“The portraits are as striking as I thought they would be, they sit well in the space, and make a bold statement. It’s not specifically a Christian exhibition; it’s a humanity statement that speaks to us all.”

Nomads is on display throughout the St Helens venues including:
Holy Cross Church, Corporation Street, WA10 1EF;
St Helens Town Hall, Victoria Square, WA10 1HP;
St Helens Central Library, Victoria Square, WA10 1DY;
St Helens Parish Church, Church Square, WA10 1AF;
St Helens College, Water Street, WA10 1PP;
St Mary’s Market, St Mary’s Arcade, WA10 1AR;
The World of Glass, Chalon Way East, WA10 1BX
and Liverpool Anglican Cathedral from Wednesday 20 – Wednesday 27 January and then touring schools throughout St Helens.

Nomads - Simon A Yorke
Nomads – Simon A Yorke

More about the works and homeless:

For Simon’s Post-Graduate Diploma at Central Saint Martins, he painted portraits of
homeless people that he encountered outside the Tate Modern.

In an art world were the artist’s job is to challenge the status quo and be avant-garde, I
wanted to put an alternative perspective to an age old tradition which is reserved for the
wealthy who commission portraits of people they have an emotional bond towards. I wanted
to paint people who in society are classed as undesirable, who live on the outskirts of the

The majority of people avoid eye contact with the homeless, who beg on the streets, which is why I painted colour into the eyes. This gives a focal point to the paintings, drawing the viewer’s eye to engagewith these characters. The mono-chromatic paletteis representational of the urban grime these people encounter daily while they live on the streets. The paintings are raised to eye level to challenge the way we see these people, changing the perspective
which they are encountered on the streets (they are normally sitting on the floor). Each painting is the same size and I painted every individual that I encountered outside the Tate so there was no discrimination and they received equality.

Homelessness is an isolating and destructive experience and homeless people are some of the most vulnerable and socially excluded in our society. At worst, homelessness can mean sleeping rough on the streets. However the problem of homelessness is much bigger than that of rough sleeping.

How many people are homeless?
Rough sleeping
• Rough sleeping is on the rise. Government street counts and estimates give a snapshot of
the national situation. In 2013 they estimated around 2,414 people sleep rough on any one
night across England, a rise of 36% over 3 years. But this is only a snapshot, the actual
figures are likely to be much higher.

• 6,437 people slept rough at some point in London during 2012/13, an increase of 62%
over the last 2 years

Statutory homelessness
• Local authorities have a duty to house some homeless people who meet a strict set of
criteria and, every year, tens of thousands of people apply to their local authority for
homelessness assistance. The majority of single people who approach their local
authority will not be eligible for housing.

• Last year 113,260 people in England approached their council as homeless, an 11%
increase over 2 years.
• This has reduced by 4000 over the last 3 years and over half of homelessness services have seen their funding cut.

After years of declining trends, all forms of homelessness have risen due to a combination of
the economic downturn, the shortage of housing and the government’s welfare reforms.
Independent research carried out for Crisis and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation shows that homelessness is likely to increase further still. Almost one in ten people say they have been homeless at some point, with a fifth of these people saying it happened in the last five years.

To be legally defined as homeless you must either lack a secure place in which you are entitled to live or not reasonably be able to stay in your current accommodation. However, in order for your local authority to have a duty to find you housing, there are further strict criteria that you have to meet. The housing a local authority provides to households who meet these criteria, mainly families with children, may initially be temporary accommodation.

Simon has developed the ‘Nomad’ series still further with a number of portraits devoted to
the ‘Big Issue’ sellers who work on Church St, Liverpool. He continues with a monochromatic
palette that he says, “Is a gritty urban context which shows flashes of colour so the
viewer engages in making eye contact with this often ignored group.”
Homeless people experience very poor health outcomes, both physical and mental. Up
to 70% of homeless people have mental health problems.

Why do people become homeless?
• People become and stay homeless for a whole range of complex and overlapping reasons and solving homelessness is about much more than putting a roof over people’s heads. The goal of the art is not to make a case about homeless people but to show the reality of their

Hostels and hidden homelessness
• People who do not qualify for local authority housing assistance and may be staying in a
hostel, with friends or family or some other form of insecure accommodation are hidden
• There are just under 40,000 bed spaces in hostels for single homeless people in England
death for a homeless person is just 47. There is a real lack of health services for homeless
people, particularly those specialising in mental health or addiction problems. Homeless
people are 13 times more likely to be a victim of violence – much of it
perpetrated by the general public.

The Big Issue offers people who are homeless the opportunity to earn their own money; a
livelihood. The Big Issue Foundation, as a charity for people who are homeless, offers
vendors the opportunity of a life. We work tirelessly alongside our vendors to help them deal with the issues that have caused their homelessness or have developed as a result of hitting the streets.

It can be as little as 12 months from a significant life event to losing everything and arriving on the street. Last year alone we worked with over 3000 individuals, enabling people who are homeless to take control of their lives.

The Big Issue Foundation’s mission as a UK charity for people who are homeless, is to connect vendors with the vital support and personal solutions that enable them to rebuild their lives; to find their own paths as they journey away from homelessness.
Nearly 100 people a week turn to the Big Issue for an opportunity to help themselves at a time of utter personal crisis. The Big Issue Foundation is small but national charity for people who are homeless.

We work with some of the most disadvantaged and excluded individuals in the land; people
who have lost more than it is comfortable to imagine, their homes, their families and their
sense of themselves in the world. We urgently need to offer more support and hope for the
future. These images show the workers in a mono-chromatic style to emphasise the bleakness of their situations, but the colour in the eyes creates a hope in their lives. while everything around them is colourless, inside they still have hopes and dreams that one day the whole of their environment will be filled with colour.