CLAYTON ON ART: Last chance to see Mary Larson's paintings at Pierce College

By Alec Clayton on February 19, 2013


The memory part of my ageing brain fails to dredge up a clear picture of where I first saw Mary Larson's portraits of homeless people in Seattle. I think it was some documentary on telvision, or perhaps I walked into some gallery in the Emerald City not knowing what was showing and there they were. Wherever or however it was, those haunting images stuck with me.

They are pop-style portraits executed with bright colors, and every one is a straight-on portrait with the head practically filling the canvas and looking right at the viewer. Most of them look dignified and happy. Like people you'd really enjoy knowing.

What her paintings do for the people whose portraits they are is something that perhaps no one else could do in any other way. She shows them as what they are: people like any others. How often have we passed homeless people on the streets and seen them, if at all, as a class or group or concept and not as individuals who just might want to be acknowledged - who have parents and children and probably former friends and neighbors who more than likely no longer see them.

I remember that seeing those portraits carried a big wallop when I first saw them, and seeing them again is like running into old friends.

Larson's portraits of the homeless are now on display at the Pierce College Fine Arts Gallery, Steilacoom campus. This is the last week for the show. It closes Friday evening following a closing reception from 4 to 6 p.m.

The gallery will be open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Through Thursday and beginning at 10 a.m. Friday before the reception. In conjunction with the exhibition, the college is holding a food drive for the needy. Donations of non-perishable or canned food will be accepted at the food deposit located in the gallery.

Larson does not sell these paintings. Instead, she gives them away in exchange for donations for the homeless. Read what she has to say on her website:

"I am an artist and a nurse who works with the homeless. The subjects of my portraits are the patients I help take care of at the clinic where I work. Many of the sitters in my portraits are homeless; some are not. All have been touched by homelessness. There are items that are luxuries for people who are homeless; socks (often worn two months at a time), gloves, hats, underwear, and a cup of coffee. Instead of putting a dollar value on my portraits, I sell them in exchange for items that are given to our patients at the clinic & to other organizations that provide for those in need in Seattle. For purchases from other cities around the world, I work with buyers to identify a homeless organization in their own community where items are donated."

On Larson's website you'll see something you'll probably never see on any other artist website. Most of the portraits are marked as sold along with a line of type indicating what they were sold for, for example: 500 tubes travel size toothpaste and 1000 toothbrushes, 750 Cans of food for a neighborhood food bank, and new hammers to help build new Habitat for Humanity Houses.

I hope you can see this show before it's gone. If you can, please go armed with a food donation.

LINK: Alec Clayton's weekly Visual Edge column