Interview with Mitchel, the emerging artist making work about homelessness

After some time spent sleeping rough, Mitchel is receiving support from Thames Reach’s Tenancy Sustainment Team, and has been selected for Accumulate Art School for the Homeless. As they launch their first book, we spoke with Mitchel to find out more about his art practice and how it’s helped him move on from street homelessness.

Interview with Mitchel, the emerging artist making work about homelessness

Accumulate is an art school that has been set up especially to nurture the artistic talents of people who have experienced or been affected by homelessness. Acknowledging that this group are hugely underrepresented in all industries including the creative sector, the school is a great opportunity to access higher education. Mitchel has been receiving support from Thames Reach’s Tenancy Sustainment Team (TST) – Private Rented support service, and has been studying with Accumulate; his work is featured in their new book ‘The Book of Homelessness’. We spoke with him about his art practice, the opportunity to have his work published and his hopes for the future.

Hi Mitchel, can you tell us about where your journey with art-making began?

I have been making art in one way or another for all my adult life. I started off doing graffiti and studied art at school; I enjoyed it and was good at it. When I was doing graffiti in my teens, I started off just writing my name everywhere then my style developed. I’ve done other things like t-shirt designs, then I gave up on it, I just sort of stopped doing it.

How did you start working with Accumulate?

I was street homeless for a short time, and then the hostel I was staying at started running art workshops.

The guy facilitating the workshops was involved with Accumulate. When I was introduced to them they were doing a fashion show so I went along to find out more. They told me about the book they were involved with; I showed them some photos of my art and they wanted me to be involved.

They’ve encouraged me a lot, and they’ve made me realise it’s something I can pursue. I’ve remembered that I still enjoy making art and that it opens a lot of doors, it starts conversations with people. People like art. It’s cool, I’m glad I started doing it again.

How has your art practice helped you?

It’s such a great way of expressing yourself, when I was a teenager I used graffiti as a way of reinventing myself, making up my own persona. People don’t know who you are, so you can choose how you want to put yourself across to the world. It’s a different way to communicate.

Can you tell us about the work you have featured in Accumulate’s book?

I did want to make some art about my experience of being homeless, but I didn’t get as much done as I’d like to. The book has drawings I’ve done about that time in my life, like a picture of me when I was running out of a shop, drawing things happening to me. Snapshots of my time being homeless; it’s not a linear story. Other artists have so many interesting stories in there, I learnt so much about the different reasons and stories why people are homeless. It was quite humbling to meet all these people who have come from such terrible things, it made me think a bit more about why people are on the streets. When you’re homeless you tend to hang around with people with the same issues as you so you don’t always hear about these different situations. The whole thing has been enlightening and humbling. It’s got a couple of famous people who have contributed to it too, including some comments from Colin Firth.

Can you talk a bit about the support you receive from Thames Reach?

I was connected to Thames Reach for support after I moved out of a hostel, so they’ve been helping me in my new accommodation. It means I have someone to check in with me, making sure I’m doing what I need to do, it’s been really helpful to make sure I’m not struggling. At the moment they call regularly to see if I’m alright. They will help with transferring drug support service, anything around additional support needs, making sure the progress I’ve made will still work at my new place. It’s easy to let appointments and other things slide and end up struggling, so they have been really helpful in that way.

Where are you now on your journey? What’s next for you and your art?

I’ve been housed recently, just before the pandemic, for the first time since becoming homeless last year; I was in a hostel from June 2019 to February. Accumulate raises sponsorship from companies for scholarships to go onto access courses in design and digital media at Ravensbourne University London, and I got one this year. Things are going a lot better now. I’m not using drugs anymore; in October I decided to do a full month without drinking, drugs or smoking, so things are going good. I’m trying to concentrate on the course at the moment, it’s giving me lots to keep busy with.

On the course so far I’ve learnt about data visualisation, about displaying information, now we’re doing a second project on a fashion magazine app, so we did a photoshoot, we all made garments. It’s all been great fun.

The book is available to buy on Accumulate’s website, where all contributing artists receive a percentage of the proceeds.