Homelessness depicted in the Royal Society of British Artists

/ Royal Society of British Artists

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Here we look at those artists in the exhibition who have chosen to document the current rise in homelessness and rough sleeping.

Painting portraits of vagrants has a long history; whether the artists saw themselves reflected in the friendless and destitute, those shunned by society, or wanted to offer an alternative view of humanity than the one depicted in endless portraits of the stiff-upper-lipped members of the aristocracy that line the walls of official buildings, it is a tradition that is represented by some deeply moving contemporary paintings in the RBA 2021.

John McCombs RBA ROI Homeless Oil 52.5 x 61 cm £795 - Buy Now

John McCombs RBA ROI shows his figure painting for the first time at Mall Galleries in the RBA this year. We usually see his landscapes and street scenes, documenting the village of Delph and its surrounding areas in the Pennines, which he has made his life’s work since the mid-1960s.

But he’s also been working on a series of portraits of vagrants for a private collector he has a long-standing relationship with. John was keen to finally show some of these portraits at Mall Galleries as he considered them ‘very appropriate to today’ – with homelessness and rough sleeping figures increasing to rise (over 280,000 households are statutory homeless this year, with an estimated 4,000 people sleeping rough each night on our streets) the people in these portraits are certainly figures that have become a familiar sight to many of us.

John McCombs RBA ROI Wandering Vagrant Oil 64.5 x 47 cm £795 - Buy Now

James Earley is a self-taught artist who uses his work to raise awareness of homelessness, mental health, and war issues. James wants to make the invisible visible.

“I met Simon in 2020 on the streets of Southampton. It was a really cold day, and it had just started to rain. We spoke about his journey to where he was, and like many homeless people that I have met, the journey was a sad and lonely one where suddenly he found himself homeless and stuck in a deep hole that he was desperately trying to get out of.

I wanted to paint the background as cardboard as this was so prevalent in the homeless areas that I encountered, and I also wanted to paint a glimpse of his childhood and the feeling of loneliness.”  James Earley

James Earley A Cardboard Story Oil 85 x 60 cm £2,950 - Buy Now

Visit the Royal Society of British Artists Annual Exhibition

Here is a list of some of the charities working to combat homelessness, which you may find useful:




Mayor of London

If you or anyone you know is at risk of homelessness, Citizens Advice may also be able to help


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