Artist’s Creative Way to Connect with Santa Ana’s Homeless

Photograph by Sean Teegarden

After moving from Irvine to Santa Ana last year, 29-year-old car designer Brian Peterson returned to his fine-arts roots and painted a portrait of Matthew, a homeless man he kept seeing around town. “He had so much pain and memory and hope in his eyes,” recalls Peterson. Friends suggested he sell the portrait, and Peterson realized he could use the money to help Matthew. And so the “Faces of Santa Ana” project was born. It had its first gallery show last month.


How does the project work?
My subjects tell me their story. I take a photo and print it in black and white so I can use colors that go with their personality. Then I have them sign the portrait, because they are contributing to the work as much as I am, and I use the majority of the proceeds to buy them what they need.
Do you give them cash?
I don’t give them large sums because they get robbed a lot. Instead I put the money in what I call a Love Fund and use it to buy cots, walkers, even birthday parties.
What do your subjects think of the paintings?
One said, “Wow, this is how my sisters must see me.” We often try to provide the necessities of life: food, shelter, clothing. But in my mind, the most basic necessity is love. So I hope the project provides that.
What’s been your takeaway?
There’s an idea that to fix big problems you need a big organization. But the homeless are not a big group of people. They are individuals. John, James, Rebecca. We can help by not ignoring them.


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See Peterson’s work at

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