Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Commentary by Hovak Najarian
Jesus the Homeless, Bronze, 2012, Timothy P. Schmalz, b. 1969
Art that was favored by the upper social class of Europe in the early nineteenth century had roots in classicism and romanticism. Paintings did not depict the life of farmers who were hunched over day after day working in the fields or the coal miners who lived and worked in hopeless conditions in Belgium. A few artists, known as “Realists” painted the lives of the poor but today, despite an awareness of poverty and homelessness throughout the world, the subject is seldom seen in the visual arts. The displaced victims of war are mentioned in the media occasionally but in wealthy nations the homeless are likely to be discussed as a “problem.” When people see them they tend to avoid eye contact and walk around them at a distance. It is easier to say the homeless are to blame for their own misfortune when no contact is made and their circumstances are not known.
One of the roles of sculpture throughout history has been to create an image that will represent the interests and values of a society. Sculpture often is intended to elicit such things as patriotism, nationalism, and religious fervor. It may be commissioned by governments to celebrate war heroes, leaders, events, or it may be simply enrichment to surroundings. The poor and homeless are not likely to be seen in sculpture intended to represent a group’s self image.
Sculpting monuments and memorials has been part of Timothy Schmalz’ life’s work and he has filled many commissions for churches. In general, his sculpture does not stir controversy. An exception is, “Jesus the Homeless” (shown above). This piece was the result of a direct personal experience and it differs in style and content from his usual work. On a winter’s day while in the City of Toronto, Canada, he saw a homeless man wrapped in a sleeping bag on the sidewalk while crowds passed by. It was the Christmas season and passersby were focused on their immediate priorities; the man on the sidewalk was ignored. When Schmalz saw the homeless man, Jesus’ words written in Matthew came to mind: “…I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” “…as you did not to one of the least of these, you did not to me.” (Mathew 25:40-46). Schmalz developed this scene into a provocative image of a homeless Jesus. Instead of being in a sleeping bag on the sidewalk, the man was placed under a blanket on a bench. At first glance, the sculpture does not seem to represent any specific person but then, as we see the uncovered feet, we notice the wounds from a nail that pierced them during crucifixion. (Note:click on the image above to see a clearer picture of the feet in the rotating banner of the artist’s page.)
Hovak Najarian © 2014