profile / alumni / graphic-design
October 25, 2014
Writer: Mike Winder

Neil Shigley with block prints including Michael 67 (Pastor Shelby).

Home Is Where the Art Is

Neil Shigley (BFA 86)

For the portrait artist, block printing is a particularly labor-intensive form. For San Diego-based Neil Shigley, it’s a labor of love.

The ArtCenter Illustration alum, who documents his adopted city’s homeless in search of “the most honest portrayal that I can get,” is among 48 artists whose work is included in the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition, a juried exhibition at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery on view through Feb. 23, 2014.

“They are people who are, to most of us, invisible. They are the homeless,” says Shigley’s artist statement. “I have focused my art on capturing the incredible character that life on the streets has given these individuals, many of whom are from my neighborhood near downtown San Diego. As a human being I can’t help but feel compassion...and by presenting them in this large format perhaps it will bring them into focus. Making them visible.”

The portrait from Shigley’s powerful series chosen for the exhibition and published in the accompanying catalog features the smiling, deeply etched face of a man named Michael, or “Pastor Shelby” as he liked to be called. When they met, Pastor Shelby was using a branch to sweep the sidewalk where he lived. The two sat down together and talked, then Shigley snapped a few unposed photos. Shigley was impressed with the man’s confidence and enthusiasm, and with his commitment to helping others despite living on the streets for many years.

After completing the 6-foot-tall plexiglass-block portrait back in his studio, Shigley returned to look for Pastor Shelby to show it to him, but never found him.

The Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition is a triennial event that invites figurative artists to submit entries in all media to be considered for prizes and display at the National Portrait Gallery. The exhibition opened March 23 of this year. The endowment from the late Virginia Outwin Boochever enables the museum to conduct a national portrait competition and exhibition that encourages artists to explore the art of portraiture.

Artist Neil Shigley documents San Diego’s homeless in search of “the most honest portrayal that I can get”