Face Value – Portraits from the Street

Posted filed under Portraits, Street Art.


“Hugh Leeman‘s apartment at 6th and Market is across from “Fear Head,” a mural with three faces in different stages of fright”. writes The Bold Italic. “It’s a fitting image for an intersection where it’s almost impossible to tell the good guys from the bad guys. San Francisco’s characters – most of them looking off-kilter, homeless, or down on their luck – drift by as I wait impatiently for Hugh to answer the door.

He buzzes me into the building. We enter the elevator and clank, clank, clank up to his floor. His tiny studio is a mess of paints, a collection of floor-to-ceiling portraits, and a charcoal-covered MacBook. With no kitchen or bed in sight, I get the sense he’s focused solely on his mission: photographing, painting, and wheat-pasting the faces of the Tenderloin up around the city. They’ve become his friends, his subjects, and his business partners.

Hugh is quite a character himself. At 18, he grabbed his backpack and traveled the world, hopping trains to see as much as he could. Three years later, he was in the Tenderloin for a six-month stopover. He’s not quite sure why he never left. Inspired by the work that Shepard Fairey and others were doing at the time with wallpaper glue from the hardware store, a world of possibilities exploded in his mind. This self-taught artist had found his medium.

Over the course of an afternoon, Hugh filled me in on the lives of the people in his portraits. Here are their stories. “