TORRANCE, Calif. — Each of Leon Washington's paintings featuring moments, people, and abstract objects, took over eight hours to complete. But it's been over eight years since he's been able to see them up close.
"It's overwhelming. It's like somebody telling you something that's wonderful, and in the back of your mind, you're saying, 'This is too good to be true.'"
In the '90s, Washington began to struggle with his mental health, and through an art therapy program, he found a way to channel his perspective on canvas.
"Every time I would complete a painting, I was sort of unsure about what I was doing because I was self-taught, and I never sold one painting, never sold one oil for over five years."
Through his mental health journey and life struggles, Washington has been homeless for eight and a half years. And while he can't carry an easel and paint supplies with him, he's often found sketching in his notepad in Torrance. That's how he met a new friend.
"That's what he was doing when I met him. He sketches on the bench every day for hours or at the shopping center or wherever he is. He told me that's his job. That's what he does eight hours a day. He's really good at it. It's fun to watch," Debra Lauzon said.
As their friendship grew, Lauzon learned that a man in San Pedro had been storing about 100 of Washington's paintings. After finding the art, she connected with the community to build him a website, found a place to store his art, and collected donations to help him stay in a motel and, hopefully soon, find housing.
"The hope is that people will keep making donations and that we'll have enough donated with what Leon's able to afford with his social security," Lauzon said.
With the newfound interest in his art, Washington remains hopeful that he'll have a place to paint again.
"I was never lucky in that way. But then, time passed, and people changed or whatever, and so I said I'll just try again," Washington said.
Washington's sketches help him pass the time, but Lauzon said she is hopeful that the community will be there for him so that he can start the rest of his life with a fresh canvas.
Lauzon created a GoFundMe campaign that has raised over $4,500 for Washington so far.