Beyond Sleeping Bags and Shopping Carts – Chris Hill’s Story.

 I had been trawling the net for illustrators for “Butterflies and Bulletproof Vests”  I did not in all my wildest dreams realize where I’d find one. Thanks also to Chris for letting me post his artwork and story here.

When I first met Chris Hill, he seemed like any ordinary rough sleeper.  He was sitting outside the old GPO in Bourke Street, surrounded by bags containing the only belongings he had. He was anxiously dotting at a page with a really old inked pen.  Normally, I don’t look at people like Chris. I tend to look through them thanking the heavens that is no longer me.  Chris, however, made direct eye contact with me and said “hey, check out my drawing”.  Something inside me said, yeah, why the hell not.  So I did.  He showed me an exact replica of St Paul’s Cathedral. I asked him if he’d ever been to London and  he said that his father had given him pictures when he was a child, on one of his many business trips there. Not really needing to be anywhere other than a place that served coffee I asked him if he’d like to come with me.  He said ” you’re paying, right”, with a glint in his eye.

When we sat down the first thing I noticed was how many glances of disdain, disapproval and often downright rudeness Chris received.  I asked him if it bothered him and he shrugged and almost seemed resigned to the fact that because of his appearance people were going to judge him.  I asked him to tell me more about where he came from, how he came to start drawing.. I didn’t ask him what brought him to the streets, but he volunteered the information with a voice that sounded as if the words had fallen from his lips a thousand times before.  Chris had come to Australia from Romania at the age of 12, his family had originally settled in Brisbane but at the age of 21 he moved to Melbourne where he met his ex-wife and had a daughter.. by the age of 30 Chris had developed schizophrenia.  He began to hear voices and experience paranoia. Because of his refusal to seek treatment his wife had left him taking their daughter with her.  He came home from a lengthy period of hospitalization to find his belongings on the curb the locks of the doors changed and his family gone.  Because of his illness he found it extremely hard to find and keep work or accomodation.  So he turned to art.

“Drawing gives me something to focus on. When it gets too intense (in his head) I try and put it onto paper” and his drawings speak absolute volumes.. from images of medieval dragons, to an almost perfect rendition of van gogh’s “the scream” Chris’s artwork revealed a side to him that he said he is often afraid to voice in words. 

“People think i’m crazy.  But i’m not really… just had a rough time. if i were to sit down and tell some shrink about all this shit, i’d probably end up locked up for good.”   I had to leave, but I gave chris some of my poetry and my email address.. the next day I found this in my inbox.. It is the illustration of a poem “Carry” about a soldier who developed PTSD after carrying his dead brother on his back. .

I asked him if he’d like to illustrate more of my poems in a published book..  I cannot describe the look in his eyes…it was one of disbelief and gratitude and why the fuck is this person doing this for me?   I said to him I’d send him the manuscript and he could draw what he felt like at his own leisure.  We have met countless numbers of times since and during that time, Chris has gotten accomodation and is working towards setting up his own website and applying for art school. He is on medication although he has reservations that it will hurt his ability to draw.   I guess the point of this blog is never ever judge a person on what you think you see. There are so many incredibly rich talents hidden beneath the rough exteriors of people that society so easily overlooked.  I don’t know what drew me to Chris,  that day or any day. I don’t have any illusions of salvation. I did not “save” him nor are homeless people poor pitiable creatures to be “saved”  they are rich, vital, often incredibly talented human beings who have simply not had the priviledges many of us take for granted.  Chris has shown me so very much about how to live life in a way that is dignified and throughout this partnership I hope we can learn more from each other as time goes on.

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