Oil Painter: Brian of Faces of Santa Ana

Meet Brian Peterson, a painter who started a passion project Faces of Santa Ana out of his encounter with the Screaming Homeless Man.  Although Brian designs cars for Kia Motors for his day job, he finds a deep sense of purpose when painting.

I feel the most alive when I’m painting.  By alive, I mean the whole time I’m painting, it’s a battle.  It’s not like “Whooo this is so fun~ I’m an artist!" It’s challenges and mistakes.  And you work with the mistakes. 50, 60 % of my paintings are mistakes. And you work with 'em.  You leave them there. You don’t try to erase ‘em. There’s no eraser with oil painting.

And I think that’s like life.   We can’t always tell if something is good or bad - we can’t discern everything.  What do you with situations that life throws at you? And that’s kinda like how painting is.  Oh that's not working, but let’s keep working. Let’s keep believing that the end goal is going to be amazing.  And that goes with all of my paintings. It never looks good half way through to me.

For Brian his faith also plays a core role in his creative work and what propels him to paint.  

Art is …

For me, art is two things.  Art is worship because when I paint, I feel like I’m connecting with God. 

Art is also love.  When I was mixing my palette yesterday, I was squeezing out the colors and thinking, “Thank you God for making this blue that I can love someone with, this red that I can love someone with.”

So if art is a means of love, and love is the most powerful force in the world, then I think art has a lot of capability of changing hearts, lives, minds, governments, perspectives.... all that stuff. So I view art as love.

What kind of “love” is Brian speaking of?

Let’s get back to the Screaming Homeless Man.  

There really was a homeless man who really screamed regularly in his neighborhood.  In fact, it was a such a regular occurrence that Matt named him the Screaming Homeless Man.  “Oh, there he goes again” was the common response to the sound.

But one night, Brian was reading Bob Goff’s Love Does on his couch.  He heard the familiar screams of the Screaming Homeless Man, but that night, it was different.  

I was reading about loving my neighbor and what it looks like to love like Jesus.  And those screams pierced into my heart. I thought “Man, that’s my neighbor. I don’t even know his name.”  I told my wife Vanessa that I had to go meet him.

Two days later I was on my way home from work on my bicycle.  I saw him so I stopped and introduced myself to him. “Hey, my name is Brian.  I’m your neighbor. I’m sorry for calling you the Screaming Homeless Man in my household. I’ve also driven by you a thousand times and I’ve never said ‘Hi.”  So here’s that intro - ‘Hello.’ He told me his name was Matt. He moved here from Kentucky to be a musician and had been homeless for over ten years.

In the midst of that something bubbled up inside me.  I had just painted the Elephant a week prior after not having painted for 8 years. It was just this moment where God was bringing the gift out of me.  I just asked, “Hey Matt, can I paint your portrait?”

I had no intention of doing anything with it.  I just wanted to paint...something...again. And I thought that his face and his story were really interesting. They inspired me.  He said, “Yes.” I posted it online and people were asking if it was for sale.

Out of that one guy that God gave me eyes for, that’s how it came about.

Since then, Brian has painted numerous portraits.  With the proceeds of the sale of the painting, he helps the subject of the painting with their specific needs.

While he has been painting for the past three years with a mission to give personal dignity and value to those who feel invisible, he is now discovering his own worth as a painter.  

An Artist’s Worth

I think I’m just discovering my worth as an artist.  I could never price my art to sell. How much do you charge for a piece of your art?  FOSA (Faces of Santa Ana) has helped me break this barrier because I’m charging money to help someone. So it makes it easier.  Previous to doing this project, I would’ve never been able to list a painting of mine for $2500. Impossible.  But because I’m helping other people, it’s justified in my heart.  

But recently, my wife’s been trying to help me understand my worth as an artist.  I’ve had these walls put up where I don’t believe that my work should be worth as much as she thinks it is (and others).  

I’m learning that God is showing me who I am to him.  He has given me this gift and so I’m learning how to step into this role to see myself as God sees me.  There are a lot of paintings I’m doing on the side that aren’t FOSA and I’ve been slowly seeing my value.  

Describe something you LOVE about what you do.

I love that my art influences people.  I love that it’s not just a pretty picture hanging on a wall that’s technically sound and perfectly painted.  I love that when people look at anything, whether it’s lines on the faces or strokes - people see stuff in it.  Because I’m creating art with the Spirit, I believe that there are supernatural things that He does with other people viewing it.  And that’s the favorite thing - waiting for those texts or Facebook messages from someone who came to a gallery or something. I love seeing how it is changing and impacting people.  

During my visit, Brian was working on his latest painting of a couple.  But for the first time, this portrait is going to be a joint effort from Brian and his wife Vanessa painting an interracial couple like themselves.  Brian is painting the man and Vanessa is painting the woman.  Brian uses a "one and done" technique where he creates a stroke with his brush and leaves it.  Vanessa uses a different technique where she blends the colors together.  "And that's ok," says Brian.