New work: Leaving

Now and then I tell my husband that if I ever do an exhibit on social or environmental issues, it’ll feature some of the most depressing work imaginable. Famine, plague, baby polar bears drowning as the ice caps melt. The title of the exhibit will be something like “Imagine Despair” or “Imagine Hopelessness,” the antithesis of Hollis Chatelain’s thoughtful “Imagine Hope” exhibit. My latest piece, Leaving, seems to bear that out.

Leaving was inspired by the story of a homeless man, Hugo Alfredo Tale-Yax. During the early part of 2010, he was stabbed while saving a woman, a stranger to him, from an assailant. Unfortunately, none of the almost 25 people who strolled by as he lay dying on the sidewalk could be troubled to help him. (However, one person did stop to take photos with his cell phone camera.) Thus, the title Leaving refers not only to the figure on the sidewalk, who is gradually leaving his life, but the bystanders who are leaving the scene.

This ghastly event is symptomatic of the plight of homeless people in general: to be homeless is to be invisible and be robbed of one’s humanity. For various reasons, many of us avoid so much as making eye contact with the homeless, avoid acknowledging their existence. Perhaps we fear being approached by strangers, fear getting hit up for money, or we prefer to donate to charity rather than getting involved with individuals. Perhaps, like a former acquaintance, we view the homeless with outright contempt.

The end result is that when we see a homeless person, we mentally make the person invisible. We walk by him (or her) as though he doesn’t exist. Unfortunately, it appears that many of us can blank out a person so thoroughly that he can literally bleed to death on the sidewalk without our realizing or bothering to intervene. What a horror that is.

There is a dual tragedy here, then, beyond the story of the homeless good samaritan who received no help himself. We’re robbing people of their humanity, and when we gain the ability to “unperson” others, we also lose some of our own humanity.

Compositionally, Leaving is a fairly stark piece. The subject matter is so grim that it seemed necessary to get some distance from it, reducing the players to bare outlines and essentials. The figure of the dying man shares some DNA with the chalk outlines of crime scene victims.

It was rendered in watercolor on soy-sized cloth, about which I’ll write another time. Some texture and perhaps another layer of meaning were added by stitching EKG waveforms into the background. As the blood and life ebb out of the person, the nature of the waveform changes, until it flatlines altogether.

I’d like to acknowledge and thank the following people plus a couple of others who declined to be named: Andee Wasson, Charlotte Dehgan, Cynthia Wenslow, Katherine McNeese, and Tobi Hoffman. When I asked the somewhat bizarre question of what a dying person’s EKG waveform might look like, they related information from a professional perspective, as well as personal stories of seeing friends and loved ones die. Any errors in rendering are, of course, mine.

Leaving will be part of SAQA’s exhibit No Place to Call Home, traveling to Mancuso Shows from August 2010 through May 2011. Accompanying twenty works by other artists, it will visit Manchester, NH; Philadelphia, PA, Santa Clara, CA; West Palm Beach, FL; Hampton, VA; Somerset NJ; and Denver, CO. Stay tuned for additional details.

46 Responses to “New work: Leaving”

  1. Ann Louise Mullard-Pugh says:


  2. Leslie Jenison says:

    Very powerful, as well as tragic.

  3. kathy n says:

    great quilt…glad it will join mine in the show!

  4. Rosaland says:

    Tanya, This is a wonderful piece of work. It is moving and powerful.

  5. Glenda says:

    What an incredibly moving quilt. Thank you for sharing.

  6. Tanya, very moving and thoughtful piece! I have a piece in that exhibit also…….looks like the show will be a good one! Chris Predd

  7. This work is fantastic in it’s visual display and it’s thought-provoking narrative. I will look for it at the show in Manchester, NH. Great work…….outstanding compassion! It is important to show all sides of life.

  8. Treas says:

    The is very interesting and really expresses your idea. I like the quilting, that was a great idea and works so well.

  9. Gloria says:

    Very moving piece. Everyone should see it and know the story behind it.

  10. Cheryl Lynch says:

    Tanya – A powerful depiction of this tragedy. A very important story to share. Thank you.

  11. Tanya – disturbing, indeed, and heart-rending. Thank you for making it. I look forward to seeing it at the Oaks, PA show in Septembber.

  12. Tayna, This is a very moving piece on many many levels.
    1. What happen to the woman he was saving from the attacker.
    2. What size is this quilt.
    3. Have you thought of other venues where this might be shown.

    This quilt deserves a LOT of publicity. That story is shameful! Those people must be totally heartless and soulless. I think you do need a better title for your one person show. Maybe something like, “Do We Care”, “Where is Our Soul”, or maybe “It is Not Too Late to Change Our World.” I think you get the Idea. ann

  13. Lyn Wolf Jackson says:

    I would go to your exhibit. This piece is powerful in its thoughtful symbolism. Yes our society can dehumanize, but on Father’s day when my 17 yr old was caught in a tornado path (he has pictures on his phone), he drove to an apt complex, knocked on a stranger’s door, and was let in to safety. There are still people who care.

  14. Betty Colburn says:

    Powerful and universal. It speaks to me of many issues beyond the artist’s original statement.

  15. Tanya, this is very powerful and well executed. Your thoughtfulness to this subject and the piece itself says your heart is involved. These are indeed ‘a sign of the times’….society as a whole has changed for the worse.
    Congratulations on being accepted into the exhibit.

  16. Gerrie says:

    A powerful piece which depicts a tragic story. Congratulations on your acceptance into the SAQA show.

  17. Extremely powerful and moving as other viewers have stated. Thank you for sharing this piece with us, and remember, social changed doesn’t happen if people don’t look at the problems in society.

  18. I’m glad this piece will be traveling. This is extremely powerful work and needs to be seen by a wide audience.

    Wonderful execution of a difficult subject, Tanya.

  19. Sherryl says:

    This is an incredibly powerful and moving piece. Your idea for the quilting really adds more depth to this work. Congratulations.

  20. jackie says:

    I am moved beyond words. You have a gift.

  21. karylee says:

    Wow.. stunning piece… amazing!

  22. Debbie Bates says:

    I like the minimalist palette. Such care and restraint give this strength. Thanks for sharing the story.

  23. Very stark and cold. It is interesting how you’ve shown Mr. Tale-Yax in such an invisible- literally faceless manner. I wonder if giving him a face and other details would be distracting or would make it more heartbreaking. A very thoughtful piece.

  24. Leigh-Anne says:

    An amazing piece – very moving

  25. Jazz says:

    Very powerful piece of work. Kudos to you. Love the stitching.

  26. admin says:

    Thanks, Jazz!

  27. admin says:

    I’m glad it seemed effective. Thanks for stopping by!

  28. admin says:

    Hi Sandra;
    Yes, the central figure is rather generic, intentionally so. Just as Mr. Tale-Yax’s experience was symptomatic of a larger issue, the central figure could be anyone. The question of features is an interesting one. I suspect that if I’d gone that direction, the picture would have become more grotesque/gory. However, in someone else’s hands, it might not have.

  29. admin says:

    Thank you. I fear that sometimes I’m too restrained. I hope that in this case, it worked.

  30. admin says:

    Thank you, Karylee!

  31. admin says:

    That’s awfully nice of you, Jackie. Maybe some good will come of the piece, then.

  32. admin says:

    Thank you, Sherryl!

  33. admin says:

    Cynthia – I hope some good will come of the piece, although I’m not sure that the audience will agree that they need to see it.

  34. admin says:

    Thank you, Tina!

  35. admin says:

    Thanks, Gerrie!

  36. admin says:

    I do think we humans would do well to be less disengaged. I like to think that I’d intervene rather than walking by. However, I’m also glad that hasn’t been put to the test.

  37. admin says:

    Thank you. There are a good many issues where we humans are simply “walking by”, aren’t there?

  38. admin says:


    I am so glad your son was safe and is alive!

    I don’t think most people mean to dehumanize or do things which have bad consequences. However, I do think it’s a trap which is very easy to fall in to.

  39. admin says:

    Hi Ann;
    1. According to various accounts, the woman ran off. She may not have even known that Tale-Yax intervened on her behalf. (
    2. The quilt is about 30 x 19″.
    3. I haven’t thought of other venues where it might be shown, but I’m certainly open to suggestion.

  40. admin says:

    Hi Lisa;
    Thank you for stopping by, and for your kind comments!

  41. admin says:

    Cheryl – thank you!

  42. admin says:

    Gloria – Thank you. Yeah, I think the story is far more important than the quilt itself: a human being’s life ended. The quilt is just a thing.

  43. admin says:

    Treas – thank you! It’ll be interesting to see how well the quilting communicates when it’s at a show.

  44. admin says:

    Thank you, Judith!

  45. admin says:

    Chris – I’ll be sure and look for your piece when the exhibit comes to PIQF.

  46. admin says:

    Gosh. It just NOW hit me that my responses to the comments were getting stacked at the end, rather than interlaced. Okay. So be it.

    Glenda – thank you!

    Rosalund – Thank you for stopping by to take a look!

    Kathy – I’m tickled that I’ll get to see some of your work in person.

    Leslie – Thank you.

    Ann – Yeah, it’s pretty depressing.