Last week I met up with a good old friend of mine, and we decided to go to Spitalfields Market in East London. As we entered the market we noticed a sign saying, “Café Art – where homelessness, great art and coffee meet”. Being a lover of art, my interest was piqued and we decided to have a look.
My initial focus was mainly in the art rather than the people there. I spotted one small drawing that looked quite dark against its bright white frame so I approached it to have a closer look. I discovered that it was a cartoon depiction of a rather bloated-looking astronaut whose lifeline that connected him to his rather cartoonish space rocket had snapped, and the caption under the picture was “oh f***” (the actual expletive is used in the caption).
I instantly guffawed out loud! It was such a simple observation of a moment that happens to all of us in our lives. That moment when we all become untethered from those things in life that make us feel safe or secure. In that instant many of us have exactly the same verbal reaction, but our emotional reactions differ greatly; some could be angry, some light-hearted, others resigned to their fate. So as I read the caption, I realised I could interpret it in whatever tone was appropriate to me. In that simple drawing and with the equally simple two word caption, I realised that I had encountered a true artist – someone whose work is able to be interpreted by each of us in our own way.
I decided to seek the artist himself out and have a chat with him. When I did, I quickly realised that the art was nothing compared to the artist himself.
His name is David Tovey and he is only 39 years old – four years younger than me. Yet he has lived multiple lives already in his short time. His life story was something akin to an epic novel. So much so, that The Independent newspaper recently felt impelled to write a detailed article about him. His story is so compelling – not to mention detailed – that I can’t really do it justice in this blog, which is why I’ve included a link so you can read it for yourself!
To give you an idea, though, he has in the last three years battled through a stroke, cardiac arrest, cancer, HIV, homelessness, multiple suicide attempts, and went from being head chef in high end restaurants and cooking for the Queen during his time serving in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces, to living in his car and eating out of bins.
Despite all that he has been through, I met a man with a sense of humour (evident from that first picture I saw, which I ended up buying) and a man with a will to live even when all the odds seem against it. If someone like David Tovey can still find things that are funny and fun (he loves his art and is now very focused on his photography – he gets great joy from it), and if he can even still find life beautiful (evident from the way he talks to me about the colours in the photograph of his I bought of Kings Cross), then I really have nothing to complain about in life. I found David inspirational.
For many people who end up homeless, living on the streets, it is (more often than not) a combination of complicated life circumstances that lead to it. It is never simply a choice that a person makes. I give thanks and gratitude that I have not ever found myself in the midst of such bad luck and circumstances that I have ended up on the streets, but as I look at David I realise that “there but for the grace of God go I”.
It could happen to any of us.
I pray that if it ever did happen to me that I would be able to find the strength and resilience that David manages to, and I pray that if it ever does happen to me that there will be access to the kinds of charities who have helped him.
Charities like the Pilion Trust, who support the vulnerable and homeless and also cafeart.org.uk, who encourage self-dependence in homeless people or those who have been homeless by creating opportunities, building self-esteem, self-worth and confidence through art and engagement with the community.
I remember hearing Sharon Stone say in an interview I watched recently that it is important, no matter who you are, to “live in your gratitude”; in other words, be grateful every day for everything you have. David Tovey has reminded me to do that and for that I thank him and wish him more luck than he has had so far in his life.
With gratitude, until next time,