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Neil Shigley is a visionary artist known for his large scale portraits. His work captures the essence of humanity and challenges the viewer to see the world from a different perspective. With a keen eye for detail and a deep understanding of the human form, Neil's portraits are not just pictures; they are powerful stories waiting to be told. His unique approach to portraiture sets him apart, making him a sought-after artist for those looking to capture the true essence of their subject.


It began with one portrait of Willie, a Vietnam veteran.

In 2005, I set out on a journey to capture the incredible character that life on the streets has allotted the homeless in their daily struggle for survival on downtown city streets.
What I found was unexpected-that beauty, dignity, strength and a desire to connect were present in each person I encountered, resting just beneath the surface.

This was when my endeavor to bring awareness to the issue of homelessness on the streets of San Diego became my passion project.

The ‘Invisible People Project’ is a powerful intersection of art and society. While each portrait is artistic, they present an opportunity for others to witness the reality of a stranger’s existence.

This artwork highlights a population that experiences gross inequities, exclusion and lack of access to critical services such as dental, medical and psychological care as well as housing, which in turn prolongs homelessness (unless they connect with a service provider). They also face physical danger, especially women.

My pursuit is aimed at telling stories through these portraits to help others truly see the homeless demographic as human beings, inspiring change. After all, we’re all in this together.

My large-scale portraits are an ongoing effort in a series called Invisible People, which focuses on bringing this largely ignored and shunned population to the forefront of conversations in San Diego and nationwide.

The Invisible Series art documents people from the opposite end of the spectrum-the underprivileged and forgotten-the homeless. Chronic homelessness is a complex issue.

The Invisible People series, which began in 2005, has been publicized locally in the San Diego airport, Natural History Museum and the city of Oceanside, as well as in galleries and museums in Boston, Los Angeles, Washington DC, Portland and Syracuse.


Art has the power to focus attention. It’s my intention through the art I produce to connect people who might not otherwise ever come face to face. Whether this relationship is created through eyes of desperation, a grimace of pain or glimpse of hope, my goal is to facilitate that worthwhile encounter.


It’s never a childhood dream to live out one’s existence on the street. Each of these individuals at some point in their lives, had a family, friends and a home with four walls.

Now their story is their plight. It’s my hope that presenting the faces of homelessness on a large scale, we as a community are forced to confront the situation that so many find themselves in. The vision for my art is to bring vulnerable men, women and children into focus, once again making them visible.
It’s in the moment-by-moment pursuit of contemplating and making art where I find the most joy.


As an artist, the greatest honor I could receive is to know that a piece of my work touched somebody in some small way.


Ideally this work raises funding and awareness for the accessibility, diversity and equity of a largely ignored population who are in desperate need of assistance.


I believe it’s our life experiences that connect us to our artistic expression. I know that’s true for me. My early inspiration was observing my father’s passion for art and culture wherever he was. However, it was my education that gave me the skills and confidence to pursue my artistic ideas. My career as an illustrator is responsible for most of my proficiency in creating art, specifically portraits.


I am an artist, painter, printmaker and educator who lives in South Park with a studio in Golden Hill. I studied painting and printmaking at San Diego State University before attending Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design on a full scholarship. I graduated with honors and became the first commencement speaker in the school’s history.


During my time in New York City, I worked as an award-winning freelance illustrator for numerous Fortune-500 companies. Much of my fine art focuses on the human condition and figure, which has been exhibited internationally. I currently teach art at San Diego State University.




As I approach each individual I do so with much respect, I introduce myself and tell them about my project to create some level of comfort. I then ask for permission to photograph them and offer money for their time even if they decline involvement.


From there I ask a series of questions: Whether they are homeless or living on the street, how long it’s been that way, where they’re from, their name and age, what the first night on the street was like and how they got there. I also ask them about their fears and what makes them happy. The stories vary from sad and ironic to empowered.


When I get back to my studio, I execute several drawings from a photograph. Once I’m satisfied with a drawing, I blow it up to the size of the piece of Plexiglas that will be carved, usually about 36 x 48 inches. I place the drawing behind it and begin carving, using a flexible shaft drill. The carving takes six to eight hours per sheet. The carved Plexiglas is then rolled with ink.
I place a piece of paper over it and rub it by hand to transfer the ink to paper. When the ink is dry, I soak the paper in water then adhere it with matt medium to canvas that is stretched over a wood panel to dry .( When the piece is dry, I trim the excess paper.)


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