Formerly Homeless Writer Moved by Artist Zhenya Gerhsman Who Captured Humanity of Homeless

The artist whose paintings have been exhibited since she was 14, moved to New York and was moved to capture the humanity in the faces of many of the homeless she befriended on the streets of the city. Our writer was homeless himself and was blown away by the exhibit.

| 03 Jun 2024 | 11:15

Artist Zhenya Gershman picked a topic for a recent exhibit that most artists and people in general avoid: homelessness.

The motivation came from a chance encounter as she walked the streets of New York with her husband and daughter. A homeless man on the side of a street had a heart-wrenching sign that read: “I might as well be invisible.” Her husband Evan hugged the man and told him: “I see you.”

“I See You” became the title of her exhibit, in which she captures the humanity of people living on the streets. Many of the 17 portraits came from subjects she encountered in the Fashion District.

Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing this extraordinary and visionary painter, Zhenya Gershman, at her studio and exhibition space, Artishouse. Her paintings had a particularly profound impact on me, because twice in my life, I have experienced the pain of homelessness and only recently moved off the streets. One of the amazing paintings featured a young woman named Rachel. The artist said the woman was just a few years older than her own child.

Gershman was born in Eastern Europe of Polish/Ukrainian descent and moved to America in 1991. As a prodigious painter, her portraits were exhibited on the world stage since the age of 14. This year, she moved to the East Coast from Los Angeles to accompany her daughter Nikka, who was accepted to the Juilliard School of Music as the youngest ever flutist in history. Gershman’s new paintings examine the plight of the homeless on the streets of New York, which she feels is under represented within the art community. Her exploration is deep and moving, using what she calls a mix of “oil and empathy on canvas.”

The artist’s previous body of work, entitled “Brushes Over Bullets,” is fast becoming its own movement within the art world. Launched when her portrait “First Face of War,” a depiction of wounded Ukrainian teacher Elena Kurilo, sold for $100,000 at Heritage Auctions, Gershman donated all the proceeds to benefit the citizens of Ukraine.

In her current work giving visibility to the homeless, Gershman says the subject has a special place in her heart. As an immigrant, she first-handedly understands the hardship of survival with limited resources. “Homeless is not the story of them, it’s the story of us,” she said.

Her favorite artists, such as Rembrandt van Rijn, Vincent van Gogh, and Käthe Kollwitz, are those who look into the soul of people with compassion. Gershman quoted Kollwitz, who said it best: “I don’t paint the paintings cold, I have always worked with my blood.”

As a highly trained portrait artist and art historian, one of Zhenya’s biggest discoveries was uncovering a hidden self-portrait by Rembrandt in his iconic painting “Danaë,” the mother of Persus in Greek mythology which hangs in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Zhenya said she continues to work on the “I See You” series, and we can look forward to attending her new exhibition in the spring of 2025.

For more information on the artist and to view her paintings, please visit or contact publicist Gail Tweedy at (212) 470-7069.

Bryan Gerard Briggs, who has been homeless twice in his life, is a BRONXNET Television Access Producer. He can be reached at BRONXNET TELEVISION at (718) 960-1180. This is his first submission to Straus News.