Artist Captures Faces of Newgate
When artist Anup Bhandari was growing up in Nepal, he saw how kind his father was to others, even to strangers. Those memories followed him to Texas as an adult and eventually collided with some people that inspired him to do the same.
One winter about 12 years ago, Bhandari noticed a man in his mid-thirties walking down Highway 80 in Longview with a Bible in one hand and a skateboard in the other. He had a long beard and dirty clothes and he occasionally talked and laughed to himself, Bhandari recalls.
“Here was a man who was not living anyone’s idea of the American dream, but he had joy and dignity just the same.”
A few days later Bhandari saw him again, digging through a trash can outside a local business.
“I watched as he rooted around for something to eat. People passing by were either staring and making fun of him or studiously ignoring him. I just wanted to befriend him.”
Bhandari tried to speak with him and help him get something to eat but the man would not respond.
“He ignored me and walked away. I realized he was not used to being approached because our society usually shuns homeless people.”
But Bhandari persisted and finally the man spoke back. His name was Thomas and he was very likable, Bhandari says.
“We became friends and I learned his routine and whereabouts so whenever I had money, I would take him food.”
Getting to know Thomas was a turning point for Bhandari — a real lesson not to judge others by their appearance, he says.
“I have since met many people like Thomas and gotten to know their stories. We tend to judge the homeless as bad people who are on the streets for reasons that make it easy for us to ignore them. We assume they are lazy, crazy, or addicted, when the truth is, they are overlooked and usually doing the best they can.”
Four years into his friendship with Thomas, Bhandari got an idea about using his art skills to help homeless people express themselves and to show society that the homeless, though too often unseen, are not invisible.
“They have vision and a voice, and are no less deserving of love and respect.”
He took his idea to Newgate Mission, a center that serves needs of the homeless, low-income, and marginalized populations of Longview.
He soon started teaching art classes there and eventually people started showing up to paint. Over time, more and more people began participating and the growing body of artwork needed a name and deserved an audience, Bhandari said.
“We called it the Healing Art Project and have since exhibited and sold artwork at the Longview Public Library, the Longview Museum of Fine Arts, and other places around town. We have received a generous outpouring of community support.”
The proceeds of each piece of art are split evenly between the artist and the mission.
In 2016 Bhandari received an inaugural award named for him, the Anup Bhandari Award for Exceptional Kindness and Dedication to the Newgate Community.
At a fundraiser about two years ago, Bhandari was displaying artwork by Newgate artists as part of the Healing Art Project when he ran into his friend Ruby. She was warming up for the 5K run, jumping around and joyfully exclaiming that she was going to “whoop them all.” She wore a Santa hat and a medal from the previous year’s run. She was 59 at the time but you’d never guess it, Bhandari says.
He had met Ruby eight years earlier when he first started teaching art classes at Newgate. Many Longview residents recognize her as she covers a lot of miles around town on her bike. She participated in the classes from the start and has sold many of her paintings.
“She has her own style,” Bhandari says, “which is easily recognizable as she only paints one endearing character best described as an animated blob.”
After the 5K, Bhandari asked Ruby if he could paint her portrait and she agreed.
“When she saw it for the first time, she got to see what all of us see in her — the beauty and joy that shines through in her strong features.”
Ruby was thrilled to see her portrait, he says.
“I saw that it made her feel seen and valued and I realized this is a way I could give back to the Newgate community.”
Soon, Bhandari began “Faces of Newgate,” a portraiture project.
“I came to see each person at the mission as a creator whose spirit I wanted to capture on canvas,” he says.
He created 30 portraits in one year and he features 27 in a book, The Faces of Newgate, that has just released. Along with the portraits are the subjects’ own handwritten accounts of their lives and loves, their histories and hopes.
“I hope this book brings homelessness into our awareness and stands as a testament to our shared humanity,” he says. “Each portrait is intended to honor the subject, but it’s an honor for me, as well, to be involved in such meaningful work.”
Kristi Bogle-Sherman — president of the Newgate Mission board of directors — has worked with Bhandari to create the book and wrote the foreword.
In part she says, “As you make your way through these portraits, what will emerge is a broader picture of our shared humanity and a few universal truths: the subjects’ stories are all different; no two paths to Newgate exactly alike. But every single person connected to this book was someone’s child, was born under circumstances (good or bad) beyond their control, and is doing their best with the tools they’ve been given to navigate through life. Viewed through that lens, this book will inspire you to explore (and possibly redefine) your perspective, not only on our homeless and marginalized brothers and sisters, but on every person you encounter.”
The Faces of Newgate is available from the Newgate Mission for $40. All proceeds benefit the mission. To order by phone call (903) 757-6146. Learn more about Newgate at www.newgatemission.org.