Charles Dwyer on art with his homeless neighbor

July 15, 2012

A neighbor is a person who lives near you, right – maybe in the apartment or the house next door or down the block.  But what about someone who doesn’t have a place to live?  Like the homeless guy who sleeps in a doorway down the street.  Is he your neighbor too?  

And, how will you treat him when he knocks on your door?

Our next story is about the complicated relationship that developed between a nationally celebrated artist and a homeless man.   Charles Dwyer is a painter and graphic artist whose work is in museums and galleries around the country.   He lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in old warehouse district – the kind that’s home to both indie artists and street people.   A few years ago, he noticed a homeless guy hanging around... a guy named Jerry Pfeil.    One day  Jerry asked him for money, Charles gave him five dollars.. This went on for awhile.  And then Charles did something unusual – he asked if Jerry would like to make some art.


Some of Jerry Pfeil's work:




I really enjoyed listening to this interview, what a wonderful experience. who'd have thought so much could have come from such a simple act - and just how many people would have been brave enough to have asked in the first place?
I also enjoyed the interview about the mathematician from Cambridge, which is where my office is. :)
This is an excellent site, keep up the good work.

Charles is acting as Jerry' s agent. Perhaps they could set up a joint acct to put the money in. When there is enough, use it for a re hab program. Give him a goal to work for, not something to fear. If he can't get it together , he doesn't get the money. If he just wants to hang out and make art and doesn't care about the money It can be used later to pay his med bills. That makes it more of a partnership.

It sounds like Charles has set himself up as God over Jerry's work. If Jerry wants to make some money off of his art, why does Charles think he has the right to not sell it? He doesn't have to be Jerry's agent, if he doesn't want to; but then he should just tell tell him that they can make art together for fun. But to take the art and show it, and then not sell it to people who want to buy it, seems pretty unfair. And why does he think he deserves 50%? That 's a pretty high commission, isn't it?

I think the reason he took 50% was because of the cost of the art supplies, the matting, and the expensive framing. Those costs can really be high.

Pretty striking, the classism here. An artist who uses drugs? Shocking. If Jerry was a neighbor living in a loft who was taken in and showed artistic talent, would his concerns about the use of his money be the same? If he was a fellow artist, would the critique of his lifestyle be as fair game? I understand that "the project" was that art was making Jerry "clean." But the problem here is not Jerry falling back into what (hello!) is his life following his brush with art. It is Charles' decision to make a familiar savior story out of his involvements with Jerry. Classist and judgmental and overwhelmingly sad.