Art exhibit bridges the gap between paintings and homelessness

Artists Jason Leith and Christopher Chinn shed light on homelessness in Los Angeles through portraits.

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Fashion Castillo-Delgadillo

The “Open Wide Your Hand” art exhibit explored homelessness and poverty through mixed media.

Fashion Castillo-Delgadillo, Arts and Entertainment Editor

The Open Wide Your Hand art exhibit encourages audiences to examine social issues of homelessness and poverty in their surrounding communities with a newfound sense of awareness and sympathy. Gallery curator Jeffery Rau brought together artwork from Jason Leith’s Sacred Streets collection and Christopher Chinn’s Los Angeles Encampment paintings to inspire viewers to intentionally pause and take a look at humanity. 

LOS ANGELES ENCAMPMENT PAINTINGS

Christopher Chinn’s artwork focuses primarily on the homeless population in Los Angeles, where he features tent cities and encampments located in his local community. Chinn fully immerses himself within the community that he is depicting by painting landscapes he sees outside of his studio. 

“I think about my paintings as portraits of the city. I’m trying to find places or looking at parts of the city that many people don’t want to see,” Chinn said. 

In many of his paintings, Chinn depicts the Echo Park Lake inhabitants prior to the eradication of unhoused residents from the park in March of 2021. 

Chinn hopes that “other Angelinos would see these parts of their city and recognize it in a way that they aren’t comfortable or familiar with [and that] people outside of LA recognize that this stuff exists in their cities too, and change how they interact with it.” 

SACRED STREETS PORTRAITS

With a passion for combining social activism and art, Jason Leith seeks to tell the stories of various individuals within the homeless community and the challenges that they face. In an effort to make art more accessible to the homeless community, Leith presented his Biola University senior thesis in 2013 on the streets of Skid Row, where many of his subjects lived. 

“My purpose for this was to actually invite people who lived on the streets to be able to experience it,” Leith states. However, Leith expressed how much of an honor it was to return to Biola to continue showcasing his work and speaking with the Biola community.

“There can be a lot of critique about why someone might be experiencing [homelessness]…I think what I really want to do is to help people to see the sacredness in someone’s life that might be living on a curb or living in a park or living in [Downtown Los Angeles] on the streets,” Leith says. 

The exhibit is framed around Deuteronomy 15:11 (ESV), which says, “For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’ ” Through his artwork, Leith attempts to reframe what people think when they see a tent on the side of the street through his use of mixed media. 

“Scripture is calling people to care for the poor, to care for people who are experiencing really difficult situations. Not to just toss what you can into the cup but ‘open wide your hand,’ that’s a different call than just giving a little something,” Leith said. 

ARTIST INVOLVEMENT

The Open Wide Your Hand exhibit is available at the Green Art Gallery until Oct. 4 for students and faculty to view. Christopher Chinn will be returning to campus in the Kim Dining Room on Monday, Sept. 12 at 6 p.m. for a presentation on his Los Angeles Encampment paintings. On Tuesday, Sept. 13 at 12:15 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. in the Green Art Gallery, Jason Leith will present a Gallery Talk on his Sacred Streets mixed media portraits.

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