Although cliché, it’s worth repeating that life has its ups and downs, and for many people the sum total of their obstacles outweighs their capacity to succeed in life. If you were born with a low IQ, came from a broken home, and suffered from bipolar disorder, the likelihood of you making it in life without any help from another person would be close to zero.
Hence, we need each other. Even those who are bright, charming, attractive and come from good families need help from time to time. We might not need help in the same way, to the same degree, or at the same times in our lives, but at some point we all need a helping hand.
Because many of us have forgotten this notion, our current sense of community is often fractured. Instead of helping others, we sometimes tend to seek our own happiness through money, success, and pursuit of self-interests. In doing so, a lot of helpless people are left behind.
When I worked at the homeless shelter in 2010, I saw some of the most painful images that have been burned into my mind forever. I witnessed people suffering from bipolar disorder who had received little or no psychiatric attention; I saw war veterans who were crippled and who had received insubstantial medical care; and I met people who had been molested or beaten and were never treated for mental trauma.
I decided to create a body of work to address humanity, or the lack thereof. Robbie Brown, one of my dear friends who happens to be homeless, became the subject for my show. He is kind, humble, and caring. I have connected with him on a very basic human level without pretense, materialism, or inauthenticity. When we’re together, our souls are in sync, just as souls are meant to be. I see now more clearly than ever before that we all want to be loved, affirmed, and feel connected to each other. Robbie taught me that.
I presented this body of work in a show dedicated to Robbie. The show created wonderful conversation about humanity. People who were opposed to the homeless shelter when money was being raised for it had new questions, and some had a complete change of heart.
A portion of the exhibit was a triptych entitled Cypher. The homeless are often perceived as a "cypher," as people without worth, influence, or weight…as non-entities. But a cypher is also a symbol of something beyond its form, something full of meaning and substance. Robbie is the perfect symbol for that: he is abundant in contentedness, spirit, and joy.
Cypher by Alex Remington. 2009, 70 x 42 inches.
The Cypher series displays a wedding gown with yards of silk and lace, crystal beads and ribbon—similar to gowns that often cost several thousand dollars. It becomes the perfect symbol of excess, superficiality, and a fake social veneer. And weddings themselves, some costing hundreds-of-thousands of dollars, sometimes take the most basic and simple commitments from one human being to another and cloak them in pretense. Although ceremonies full of love and joy do take place, I believe that many are solely about impressing others. Presenting Robbie in the wedding dress signifies authenticity and contentment being enveloped and hidden by this “social fabric.”
Ecstasy by Alex Remington. 2009, 16 x 16 inches
After the exhibit, my father came to the shelter because he wanted to see first-hand the magnitude of our homeless problem. The shelter deeply moved him and practically brought him to his knees with sorrow. Because he lives in a different world, he had not realized the obvious severity of sickness, loneliness, and overall desperation within the homeless community. He then went home and sent a mass email asking people to donate any clothing they could spare. Cars, trucks and SUV’s came by the dozen and dropped off clothing to his front door. My dad then delivered a truckload of shoes, shirts, and pants to the shelter. This random act of kindness made a tremendous difference in many lives.
Rock Star #2 by Alex Remington. 2009, 28 x 28 inches
“At any given time today in America, there are about half a million people who are ‘homeless’ -- they don't have a ‘permanent, safe, decent, affordable place to live.’ Around the world there are about 100 million homeless people, and many of them are women and children.” Robert Alan
Art can have impact as it did in the case of my dad. But we don’t need art to make a difference. Opportunities to give back are everywhere. It takes just a small amount of awareness and kindness to help another human being.