“His scream was ear-splitting. The stairwell in our apartment building acted as an amplifier, his cry blatantly bouncing of our building’s walls. My wife and I shamelessly named him “the screaming homeless man”. There was one afternoon when his scream traveled upstairs and found its home in our living room as I was sitting on my couch reading this book about love - Love Does. The book was talking about loving your neighbor, and it hit me: he was my neighbor.
The next day I went down to talk to him for the first time. His name was Matt. In that moment of speaking with him I had this overwhelming sense that I needed to paint his portrait. He had such an interesting face. This big beard. You could see the struggle on Matt’s face, and I saw beauty in it. I hadn’t painted in eight years, but I envisioned his story coming alive on the canvas in cool blues and deep yellows. From Matt’s story of ambition, failure, and isolation, The Faces of Santa Ana was born. I call it a family before anything, because that’s what it’s become. I meet them, I build trust, I paint them, and they become family. We have imperfect relationships, there are hard moments. There are easy moments. There are great moments.”
Brian Peterson, founder of the Faces of Santa Ana, studied car design at the Cleveland Institute of Art, and currently works at KIA design center. As I listened to Brian relay Matt’s story, I can tell he’s living out of an unbridled passion to make the invisible seen. In Brian’s case, his medium of choice is oil on canvas, and his process is unlike any other.
“The painting starts the minute I say hello, before I even buy the canvas. Sometimes, when I meet them I already know what color it’s going to be. I met a lady the other day and I told her, “Red. I have to paint you with Red.” Only after learning their stories can I go home and paint. The painting embodies who they are. Their experiences. I take all of that with me when I go home to paint in my living room. I want what’s coming onto the canvas to be them. Each painting takes between 12 and 16 hours, and then I take it out to them in the streets wherever they may be sleeping, living, or standing. Then they get to sign the painting. That’s important, because I want them to know that they’re part of this story. You can tell some of them forget how to sign their signature. These are people who have been outcast by their families, by society, by everyone that walks by - when I follow through and show them the finished product, trust is built.”
Fast forward a year since his encounter with Matt, and Brian is on his fifteenth FOSA painting, each 30x40inch masterpiece being sold at an average of $2,500. The money from the purchase goes to meet a direct need of the person featured in the painting. How does Brian decide which need to meet?
“I usually ask them. Along the way I’ve learned a lot, but I want to know their hopes and dreams, I want to know the things that are keeping them in the chains that they’re experiencing.”
Before the Faces of Santa Ana, Brian had never sold a painting. His art was always a selfless expression of love towards people he cared about.
“I gave a piece of art to the financial director at my college, and I gave a bunch of my paintings in college to my friends. I never thought of it as a way to make money, so this is new for me. If you go to my father’s house… his house is all full of my paintings. If I love someone, I give them a painting. I think we all have a unique way to show people love, we all have that capacity.”
We’re all born with the capacity to love someone. What’s your medium?
Come hear Brian Peterson first hand as he speaks at Q-Commons on, “Seeing People Who Feel Invisible.” To Register for Q-Commons, visit the Q-Commons Costa Mesa website. Discounted tickets are available for FLDWRK members, students, couples and groups of 8 or more.