James Chavies hopes art will lift him out of homelessness

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 7, 2012

By Gordon Furr For The Salisbury Post
Did you ever find yourself rooting for a comeback player, the underdog?
I sure do, and I found my favorite one at the library.
We home school our son…actually it is more appropriately termed “library-school” since that is where we love to go and hold our class.
Over the school year I kept noticing a fellow sitting at a table in the corner of the main branch library in Salisbury studiously working on portraits. Good ones, too. Really good.
I found him there nearly every time we came, huddled over his artwork. I would walk past and take a quick glance to keep an eye on his progress. One time, he was finishing up a wonderful and complex portrait of a family of four, all the faces smiling and happy. Another day I saw a great pencil rendition of a man and his prized horse. Then an aged mother with her two sons…
All the portraits exhibited great warmth. You could just sense the personality of the person shining through the delicious work. Eventually, I just had to stop and find out more about this talented artist, why he worked at the library, what was his story.
His name is James Chavies (pronounced CHAV iss). Born in Watts, a neighborhood in Los Angeles, James has been interested in artistic rendering all his life. He remembers being 5 and having a sweetheart, both scratching in the dirt making pictures with a stick. He made the letter ‘S” in the soil, and she took her stick and turned it into a picture of a daring pirate’s hat. He was in love with both her and the powerful and magical transformation of the image.
A few years later James spotted a photograph of his older sister — and something clicked.
“All of a sudden I could see the features of her face so clearly as if they just separated and came out of the picture. I remember thinking ‘I can draw that’…” and he did. So well, in fact, that everybody who saw the picture knew instantly who it was. “She had a beautiful face,” Chavies says.
He was about 15 at the time, and the passion was ignited within him. Every chance that he could, James worked on portraits of family members, and they cherished the work, creating a family album.
James lives at the shelter in Salisbury. He quickly pointed out that although he finds himself needing to be there for the time being, he is not going to remain there, nor does he consider himself “homeless.”
“I’ll never be homeless,” he shares with me. “As long as I am alive in this universe I’ll have the heavens as my canopy and the earth as my recliner. Wherever I go I have a home. Now, I am here,” he says. ”I can’t put these two words together and say I live ‘NOWHERE’… because I am NOW HERE.”
James arrived in Salisbury via moves to Florida and then Georgia. After moving to Atlanta, he (along with several co-investors) owned and managed a large rental community. Eventually, control issues arose between him and his financial partners, so he decided to leave the group and come here for a fresh start.
I asked James what his plans are for his art.
“I really want to use my art to help get me up and out of the shelter. I plan to earn enough money doing portraits to buy a laptop and a digital camera, and with that I can market my work more effectively. I use the computers at the library all that I can, but the allotted two hours a day is not enough for me to accomplish all that I need to do.
“With more marketing I’ll be able to develop my business. I’ll be able to get my own place and do some things to leave a mark in Salisbury. I’d love to be able to start a studio and gallery and help people from the shelter and everybody else, young and old, develop themselves there. I’d love to leave Salisbury a ‘gem.’”
Well, I think Salisbury already has its gem.
James can be reached at jamoty105@aol.com or can be found on Facebook…or, you can simply stop by the second floor of the library almost any day and find him in the corner desk busily huddled over his next portrait masterpiece. You won’t be disappointed.