InVisible -- an exhibit featuring powerful, inspired art created by the homeless and recently homeless -- is designed to challenge perceptions of the homeless, give them a voice and visibility through their artwork and showcase their talents.
The exhibit presented by MarksNelson runs from September 26 - December 31 at the Museum at Prairiefire in Overland Park, Kansas. The featured art including paintings, drawings, poetry, and sculptures are for sale with all the proceeds going back to the 12 artists.
In addition to breaking down barriers to foster understanding and compassion and validating the artists’ self-worth, we hope InVisible stimulates conversation on how to make a positive impact on our community.
The artists who make up the exhibit come from diverse backgrounds, but they all have one thing in common, hope.
Meet the Artists
Carrie is a woman of many words. Her gifts include writing poetry and songs highlighting her deep love for Jesus Christ, her Lord, and Savior. She’s spent the last 15 years on the streets and prays for the day in which she has a piece of land – with a garden, all to herself.
Carrie who turns 62 years-old in November is a mother, grandmother, daughter, and aunt but rarely sees her family. It’s a subject which is very painful.
Being homeless she often moves locations after complaints to local police or cities clearing out known camps. However, the one thing she says no one can take away is her faith. She’s slept on benches, in the woods, taken punches to the face, and twice has been left with nothing but the clothes on her back. Even so, she prevails.
Carrie’s guilty pleasures include an ice-cold Pepsi, Christian books, and a good gab session.
To say it’s a miracle Countree is
alive is an understatement. When he was just three-years-old, he fell from the window of his family’s 3rd-floor apartment in Brooklyn. The damage to his tiny body and brain was catastrophic. He spent years in a hospital recovering, and some of the injuries are still visible today. Countree lost vision in one of his eyes and suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD as well as anxiety.
He’s spent the majority of his 45 years living on the streets, but this last winter nearly cost him his life. With the temperatures below zero, blankets and a campfire were not enough to keep warm. Exposure resulted in severe frostbite on his feet. Doctors were able to save them, but Countree still is in pain.
Despite everything he’s gone through love prevails in his heart. Countree’s “queen” is his wife, Lexy. They met on the streets and instantly felt a connection. He is her protector and biggest fan. This spring after six years of being “houseless” they were able to transition into a home with solid walls. It’s an adjustment to the camp living he’s known, but Countree always greets guests at the door with a smile and a “how, ya doin.” It’s not uncommon to find him tinkering in either the yard or garage or writing poetry. Countree’s guilty pleasures include mangos, avocados, and ice cream.
Errienne became a victim of repeated sexual abuse between the ages of seven to ten. When the molestation came to light, she didn’t receive counseling which led to a life of chronic depression, extreme anxiety, and suicidal thoughts.
Lacking self-confidence and a support system she began drinking and doing drugs at the age of 12 as a way to cope with the past trauma. However, it only caused more pain. At 16, Errienne was the victim of rape, not once, but twice within a three-month span. To make matters worse, no one believed her when she spoke out. The new assaults only added to her already destructive behavior.
A turning point in her life happened at the age of 18 when she gave birth to her first daughter. Errienne was no longer using drugs and alcohol, but her husband was an addict. She endured years of emotional and mental abuse before having a second daughter and ultimately finding the strength to leave.
After meeting a man online, she and her daughters moved to Wichita to live with him. He became physically, sexually, and emotionally abusive. Errienne felt hopeless and tried to kill herself multiple times.
In 2017, the death of her father on top of nearly a decade of abuse pushed her over the edge. Suffering a massive breakdown Errienne once again tried to commit suicide and ended up in a psychiatric hospital. With nowhere to go upon her release, she met Mr. Woo who runs the KC nonprofit, Artists Helping the Homeless. He took her in and gave her a chance when her own family wouldn’t.
With Mr. Woo’s support and the kindness of the whole AHH family, she’s finding herself and becoming an independent woman for the first time. Recently engaged, she is expecting her third child and has custody of her two daughters.
Two years ago, Gabriel left life as he knew it behind to walk with God. Family, friends, a good-paying job, a car – everything. Becoming homeless made him hear Father God, more clearly, to understand what matters most, and to focus on spreading The Word to others. But the walk has not always been easy for the 23-year-old.
Gabriel ended up sleeping under a bridge and using a nearby community center as a place to clean-up. This last winter left him with tingling in his hands. Up until July, he would spend his days preaching along the exit ramps of 71N and street corners or working on one of his murals. But he doesn’t take credit for his talent. It’s a gift from God, and each piece is commissioned and crafted by Him.
Gabriel is patiently waiting on God for his next assignment. Right now his exact location is unknown. His future plans involve making money through his art.
Don’t let the eyepatch fool you. John is a tender-hearted man who truly enjoys landscaping, gardening, and classic rock. Earlier this year, after suddenly losing sight in his eye, doctors discovered a buildup of protein. Surgery is scheduled soon which will hopefully correct his vision. Since the diagnosis, John continues to create calling it “the best medicine.”
Self-taught, his passion began with a coloring book, a box of crayons and the words, “Daddy draw me something.” John pours everything into his artwork including pain. The loss of one of his children along with his Bi-Polar Disorder and PTSD show up in the extreme variations.
Currently, John is receiving treatment for alcoholism through the Nonprofit Artists Helping the Homeless. On his bucket list, going to the moon and seeing Led Zeppelin in concert.
Johnny looks like the all-American Jedi next door. He’s a bit of a renaissance man who enjoys thinking but not too much.
Despite coming from an upper-middle-class background, he began to lose his way in college when an existential crisis led to self-medicating with drugs and alcohol. This led to an IV opiate and methamphetamine addition.
With his family using the tough love approach and his life spiraling out of control Jonny reached out to the nonprofit Artists Helping the Homeless. Currently, he is going through the organization’s program which includes a roof over his head as well as addiction recovery.
Johnny loves to take pictures as a way to profile his time with AHH. He hopes in the future to find a career within the organization and eventually pursue music as a hobby. But for now, he’ll settle for belting out oldies in the shower.
Lexy is passionate about painting and educating others on the “houseless” community. Her works of art not only show the struggle of living on the streets but also challenge us to open our eyes and see.
After spending the last six years living in the woods Lexy and her husband, Countree, barely survived the brutal winter. Help came this spring when the couple moved into transitional housing. They’re still adjusting to living in a home that’s not made of nylon but are always quick to offer homeless friends a meal or a safe place to sleep.
Lexy’s cycle with homelessness began at the age of 14 when her parents kicked her out. She “couch surfed” with friends until graduating from Shawnee Mission North High School in 2011. With nowhere to go, she ended up on the streets of KC. Days later, she met Countree, and the two have been inseparable ever since.
They made their home on “the ridge” near the West Bottoms where Lexy became the unofficial “camp mom.” Taking care of others including stray animals made her happy.
While living in the woods, Lexy would pick up discarded items like plywood, windows, even furniture and turn them into works of art. News of her talent spread within the homeless community and outreach groups as well. Earlier this year she even participated in First Fridays at the Crossroads displaying her creations.
Lexy continues to miss “the ridge” but has no desire to ever go back to living in the woods. She has several projects in the works and is looking forward to making art her career.
Michael is an out-of-the-box artist whose early influences include anime and comic books. While in middle school he fell in love with graffiti style art. He’d spend hours sketching and eventually came up with his own signature font – or type of lettering. His first tag “Hevn’s Hell” was on the 23rd street bridge in Independence, Missouri. Concrete and metal became his canvas of choice. However, it wasn’t uncommon to find him painting a custom pair of shoes.
His love for art slowly began to fade as he slipped into drug addiction. Michael first experimented at the age of 10, and by the time he was a teenager he was a hardcore user. Meth, heroin, and IV opiate were the drugs of choice.
Michael’s lifestyle and behavior landed him behind bars. After getting out and not having a place to go, he contacted Artists Helping the Homeless and is currently in the nonprofit’s recovery program. In his free time, Michael enjoys spending time with his housemates and working out.
Mikey will celebrate a significant milestone in October and turn 40 years-old. Just a few months ago many people, including himself, didn’t think he’d survive to see another birthday due to his drug use.
Dope, or meth, along with suicide occupied his thoughts. His home was a tent nestled under an overpass and next to a building, and the only meal he knew he would eat was on Sundays when Free Hot Soup would come by to visit. But things changed for him in June when he checked himself into a rehab facility. He’s now in an apartment, getting assistance through food stamps and in the process of applying for disability.
Mikey’s life growing up was extremely hard. He lost a brother to Acute Leukemia, endured mental abuse and as a self-proclaimed “people pleaser” desperately longed for approval from his mother. As a result, he began using drugs at a very young age and acted like a “hellion.” He ended up behind bars – and then on the streets in 2016 after his release.
Drawing became a way for him to channel his anger, frustration, and feelings of being a disappointment. It started as stick figures and has developed into his unique style. A visit to Mikey’s tent would reveal several works in progress, and this exhibit became a light in the darkness.
Mikey now feels love and support through the friendships formed while on the street, especially members of Free Hot Soup, and Street Medicine KC. Recently he connected with his family back in California and is working on mending and renewing relationships.
Ever since Morgan could walk, she’s felt inadequate through almost every life endeavor. When her parents divorced, she became a concealed and mischievous troublemaker. By the age of 12, she was drinking. Alcoholism followed, and during her teen years, Morgan would rather get “jagged” after school instead of grabbing ice cream with friends.
In her early 20’s a few “frenemies” introduced her to opiates and heroin. She quickly became addicted and found herself homeless and stuck in a life she never imagined. For eight months Morgan squatted in homes of other drug users and even remembers sleeping on a mattress covered in worms.
At her lowest point, she heard about the KC nonprofit, Healing House which is a faith-based recovery program. It became her beacon of hope. She spent two years living there, and soon the real parts of herself started blooming.
Today, Morgan is a grateful overcomer. She’s nearly four years clean and serene from alcohol, drugs, and cigarettes. She has an abundant amount of love for herself and others; discovered the grace and forgiveness of Jesus Christ and strives to be a fruitful soul in society.
But what makes her story of recovery stand out, is not only did she pull herself out of a life of addiction, but she was able to get into the prestigious Kansas City Art Institute – and receive a scholarship! Morgan is currently enrolled in her second year and pursuing a dream of becoming a sculptor.
TMT became the victim of sex trafficking at a very young age. Her bedroom was not a place of refuge, rather a place she was only allowed to go when meeting paying customers. Caretakers routinely sold her body to others often transporting her in the trunks of cars, or in the cab of a semi to the highest bidder.
At the age of 11, her caretakers separated, and she began acting up in school. Her behavior, which in hindsight was a cry for help, landed her in a mental hospital. By 14 she was living in a residential facility and at 16 a group home, where she became a Christian.
After turning 18, the cycle of homelessness and institutionalization began. In 2009, doctors diagnosed TMT with Dissociative Identity Disorder. Previously called multiple personality disorder, DID is usually a reaction to extreme and prolonged trauma as a way to help a person survive. She struggles with addictions, and her primary form of coping is self harm.
As a victim without a voice, art became a world in which she could escape and feel in control – it became her words. This gift from God is how she kept her sanity – how she survived.
Despite all the darkness, TMT chooses to walk in the light with integrity and follow God. She sees how even through the pain he was bringing people into her path to help her through the healing process. Recently she moved into a townhome with the help of Rediscover a KC Nonprofit.
In the future, TMT wants to work with the homeless as well as use her art to spread the Word and the Light of God.
For Zachary, art began as a hobby. Around the age of ten, he got his first glimpse of graffiti art and instantly became infatuated. He started “biting” or copying artwork to try and make them his own. With the support and encouragement of his mother, Zachary painted a four-foot Tweety Bird on his bedroom wall.
But art ended up evolving into an escape, an outlet for his emotions as he struggled and got into trouble at a young age. The only positive recognition during his schooling was an award from his art teacher in the 8th grade. However, it led to an “in-school” suspension after he skipped the ceremony causing confusion and worry.
Spending the majority of his life between 13 and 23 incarcerated, Zachary had a lot of time to cultivate and develop the skills which hold deep roots in his soul. He isn’t a fan of the “dark” side of art usually seen in prison. Instead, he likes to keep his things “light,” In fact, while behind bars he focused on drawing pictures for birthdays, holidays, or the names of loved ones for other inmates.
Through art, he’s learned that if you spend enough time pursuing or practicing something, the vision in your mind will reveal itself in real life. As a result, Zachary tries to focus on the beauty and goodness hoping that it will rub off. If not in his life, at least in his pictures.
Presenting Sponsor of InVisible: MarksNelson
Sponsors: Museum at Prairiefire, Artists Helping the Homeless