Meet Brian Peterson, the artist that portrays homeless neighbors to give them an actual face

“That is the screaming homeless man again”, said Brian Peterson to his wife. Living in Santa Ana, California, and working a daytime job as an automotive designer, Brian lived a pretty normal life. But one day, he and his wife got at a tough point in life and wanted to change something. Brian decided to go out on the street to talk to his homeless neighbor. That is the day it all began for Faces of Mankind.

Picking up his paintbrush

Everyone around the neighborhood knew the homeless man, but no one knew his name. Brian talked to him and saw beauty in his story, his face, hopes and dreams. He asked the man if it was okay to paint his portrait. Brian had not painted for 9 years but jumped back into painting.

It was in 2015 when he painted his first portrait of his homeless neighbor Matthew. Later, he founded his non-profit project Faces of Santa Ana with the mission to help homeless and inspire creatives to connect people with their neighbors in need.

“The aim was to help the homeless, help our neighbours, get them off the streets. And a lot of those things happened. We were able to help a lot of people.” – Brian Peterson

Faces of Santa Ana became Faces of Mankind and expanded to other cities. It became a community of painters in Detroit, Anaheim and Miami and other US cities. Up to this day, the project has portrayed more than 150 people experiencing homelessness.

Process of worship

Painting someone you don’t know and who is experiencing homelessness begins with a first conversation. Brian encourages them to be vulnerable, to open up and have a human conversation. Sometimes it takes a few days or weeks to become ‘friends’ until it feels right to ask the question: “can I paint your portrait?”

If people agree to that, Brian asks some more questions that would make them smile and then takes some pictures before he goes to his studio.

“The painting process for me is always a process of worship. How can I take off my human eyes and see with the eyes of my heart, so to speak? Getting into all the stories they’ve told me, all the pains, all the hurts, and then all the hopes and dreams and things they wish for.” – Brian Peterson

One of the painters of faces of mankind that portrayed a man experiencing homelessness in Jackson, Tennessee Source: Facebook Faces of Mankind

Valuable faces

Every one of the paintings goes for sale once finished. With the proceeds of the sold portraits, the people experiencing homelessness can get help. If you haven’t yet, watch the video above to learn about one of Brian’s friends and her touching story.

“So I’ve learned to be more grateful. I’ve learned to count blessing sin my life, to hear the stories of what they encounter and what they consider a blessing.” – Brian Peterson

Apart from the economical value, Brian discovered also very much social value in portraying his homeless neighbors. He became friends with people who turn out to be the most generous and most hospitable people he knows. They may not have the money, but live in richer communities where everyone is open and knows each other’s secrets and day to day lives.

Brian and his painting colleagues aim to dignify and honor people in their communities. When Brian asks them in what color he should paint, most of the people say: grey. “If they’re experiencing darkness, how can I paint with light?” He wants to give them something to feel real about; to see themselves in color again. In that he succeeded already and it is what he will keep on doing in Miami now that he moved there.


Support homeless people

You can support people experiencing homelessness in many ways, such as showing respect and donating needed stuff. If you want to support the homeless people that were portrayed by Brian and his colleagues, then check out their website where you can buy portraits they made. The proceeds go to the homeless people.

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