We had the good fortune of connecting with Stuart Perlman and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Stuart, what principle do you value most?
I believe in the golden rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. Through this homeless portrait project, where I have spent thousands of hours painting and interviewing over 250 people, my goal is to give a face and story to individuals who are living and dying on the streets. Almost every homeless person I interviewed has been massively traumatized, contributing to their situation; and once they are on the streets they continue to be repetitively traumatized. I also hope to expose the greatest truth of all: we are all people, we are all vulnerable, and each of us is just one thin, life-altering experience away from being homeless ourselves. Each day I work on this project I must remind myself, “there but for the grace of God go I.”
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I have been a psychologist and psychoanalyst in private practice in West Los Angeles for 40 years. I received a Ph.D. from UCLA in clinical psychology, and a second Ph.D. in psychoanalysis. I have published many of articles in psychoanalytic journals, and authored the book, The Therapist’s Emotional Survival: Dealing with the Pain of Exploring Trauma. My new book, Struggle in Paradise, chronicles an art project, Faces of Homelessness, that features oil-on-canvas portraits of individuals experiencing homelessness, along with their life stories. Many of the paintings are 4’ x 4’ or larger. The painting project it depicts was nominated for the Best Art of the Year Award by the National Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis. I won the 2016 Los Angeles County Psychological Association’s Social Justice Award. In 2017, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors gave me an award for my work on behalf of those who live unsheltered in our community. After a hiatus of over 25 years, I returned to one of my early passions, painting, devoting thousands of hours to painting the experiences of those living on the streets and illuminating their humanity and pain. Through portraiture, a style traditionally used to immortalize the rich, famous and powerful, we are reminded that these individuals, too, are to be valued: “If we can see into their faces and learn their stories — their hopes, dreams, accomplishments and fears — we can no longer pretend that they don’t exist…we can no longer look the other way.” The Faces of Homelessness portrait project has been exhibited throughout Los Angeles, covered on Public Radio (KPCC), featured in print in Column One of the front page of the Los Angeles Times, and in other national and international publications including The Guardian (London), Taipei Times (Taiwan), Vanity Fair Italia and a cover story in the Jewish Journal. My documentary about this project, Struggle in Paradise, won the National Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis’ Best Movie of the Year Award. The project was featured in Fine Art Connoisseur magazine’s recent issue with the title, “Great Art Worldwide.”
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Here are a few of the many things I love about Los Angeles. What I enjoy most in Los Angeles are the beaches. I love Santa Monica Beach, the Santa Monica Pier, Venice Pier, Malibu and Laguna Beach. I also enjoy the world class museums, especially the art museums like the Getty Center, the Getty Villa, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Norton Simon and the Hammer Museum. The food in L.A. is unbelievable. I’ve traveled all over the world and I think that the best variety of restaurants exists in Los Angeles. You can go around the world many times and eat authentic food from each part of the world in Los Angeles. I enjoy going to each of these ethnic neighborhoods and just walking the streets and hearing different languages spoken.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I would first like to thank my wife and children who have helped me at every step of the way to do this project. I am so inspired by the self-sacrifice and dedication of the first responders and healthcare workers as well as all the nonprofits that are helping people living and dying on the streets. I have worked extensively with the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, and have been moved by their commitment, especially Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas and Phil Ansell, Director of the Homeless Initiative. We as a society need to recognize that this is a larger problem and it must be a national priority. Mahatma Gandhi said, “a society’s greatness is measured by how it treats its most vulnerable members.” We as a society need to step up to the plate and treat each person as a unique and valuable human being.
Photos taken by Stuart Perlman each painting is 4′ x 12′