Homeless + hungry. Anything helps.

Veteran needs help feeding family. God bless.

Trying to get my life back on track. Homeless, not hopeless.

Pregnant. Escaped domestic violence. Any kind of help is greatly appreciated. Thanks.

Hastily scrawled messages on old cardboard that can’t even begin to spell out the scale of human misery and desperation behind them.

Or a scourge on society, depending on where you happen to be standing on the socio-political divide.

To acknowledge the individual behind the sign is to risk acknowledging our own frailty; our own privilege, and the possibility that, for many of us, those roles could so easily be reversed.

Scooter LaForge sees something else too, though. An opportunity, perhaps? Potential?

“I think they look cool,” he explains.

The artist, who started selling silk-screened T-shirts at Patricia Field for $10 in the mid 2000s and has since designed for stars like Madonna, Beyonce, and Debbie Harry, was initially drawn to the primitive handwriting. Then he figured: “Why not paint over them, but leave some of the writing showing? I could give them $10 or $20 … whatever I have in my pocket … for this piece of cardboard and paint it, then try and sell it for charity.”

He’s been doing the paintings now for about ten years, and each piece can attract between $300 and $500, depending on the size and the amount of work that has gone into it. He then donates the money, in full, to Coalition for the Homeless.

He’s already painted ten pieces since lockdown started, and has sold all but two (he’s on the lookout for more “canvas” after a buyer in England asked for one). “But it’s very sporadic,” he says. “It comes from the inside. It’s more about painting what I feel. I don’t plan a lot. It’s just really very instinctive. Sometimes I do floral still life. I’ve done a grasshopper with a clown head. I did another one with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs on there.

“I’ve been noticing a lot more homeless people all over the place since we’ve been in quarantine,” he adds. “There are a lot of people panhandling, more than ever in my 20 years of being here.”

Of course, they’re usually delighted to accept the cash. But it’s more than that, says Scooter. “They’re just happy someone’s talking to them and having a conversation. There but for the grace of God go I. I’m a full-time artist so, who knows? I could be there one day, as anyone could, I guess.”


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