Art

Stunning portrait of Big Issue vendor 'shows the power of art' to tackle homelessness

Shane Record’s remarkable painting of Folkestone vendor Raheem Ahmed is part of a series of artworks highlighting homelessness in the Kent town

Shane Record's painting of Big Issue vendor Raheem Ahmed

Shane Record's portrait of Big Issue vendor Raheem Ahmed has attracting attention in Folkestone and on social media. Image: Shane Record

A professional artist has immortalised a Big Issue vendor with an oil painting portrait in a bid to use the power of art to spark action on street homelessness.

Folkestone artist Shane Record’s painting of local seller Raheem Ahmed has been turning heads in the Kent town and online after he revealed it last week.

The piece of art is the second in a planned six-strong series which Record hopes will result in an exhibition at the Folkestone homelessness charity the Rainbow Centre, where he volunteers, later in the year.

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“I’ve known Raheem for ages and he’s the loveliest guy and everyone loves him, he’s a very well-loved figure,” said Record, 49.

“It was a very touching moment when he saw it. He shook my hand and it meant an awful lot to him.

“He had a heart attack recently – so he was away for a few months and I didn’t see him. When he came back it was kind of heartbreaking because he’s now got these big bandages on his legs where they took the valves from his veins to put in heart and he’s struggling to have those heal.

“He doesn’t complain, he’s such a lovely chap.” 

Shane Record's painting of Big Issue vendor Raheem Ahmed
Raheem Ahmed hopes the piece of art will help him boost his Big Issue magazine sales. Image: Shane Record

Raheem Ahmed, who has been selling the magazine near Asda in Folkestone for two years, told The Big Issue he hoped the portrait would see an uptick in his sales.

“It’s very good. I like selling The Big Issue to make a living. People in Folkestone look after me and I hope the portrait will help to sell more Big Issues too,” said vendor Ahmed, 65.

“My health is not very good at the moment but money is needed to go on day by day.”

The 24″ x 36″ oil painting took Record three weeks to complete and attracted a huge reaction after he shared it online this week.

Shane Record's painting of Big Issue vendor Raheem Ahmed
It was a “touching moment” when Raheem Ahmed saw his portrait for the first time, according to the man who painted it Shane Record. Image: Shane Record

The art notched up more than 1,000 likes on Facebook with scores of locals sharing their admiration for both Record and Ahmed.

Josh Magill commented: “My main man Ahmed… I used to give this man free hot tea and hot chocolate from my coffee truck every day during the freezing cold winter mornings in pandemic England and we struck up quite a bond. Great painting of a wonderful soul.”

Linda said: “Brilliant, a painting giving him dignity. It’s lovely to have people who are so often invisible being seen.”

Kay-Lily Smith added: “This man melts my heart, so polite and courteous and just an all round pleasure to talk to. I always look forward to seeing him.”

Record’s interest in homelessness began two years ago after taking up baking with his children and passing out extra cakes to people on the streets.

“This really gave me more of an opportunity to kind of stop and chat and say hi and find out everyone’s names and that sort of thing,” said Record.

“Then that got me thinking about using some of this in my artwork to raise awareness of the issue.

“There was this one guy in particular called Jamie and I kind of connected with him. But I’d really ummed and ahhed about it thinking: is it sensitive? Is it insensitive? Am I patronising anybody? I felt like I had to tread pretty carefully.

“He was up for it. But then last summer when I was thinking about starting the project he died right next to my house. He was young, he was probably in his 40s.

“That gave me such a shock and so that basically made me act.”

Ahmed’s portrait is the second in Record’s portrait series.

The first portrait of a local man called Rob has already made an impact and given Record belief that art has the power to play its part in mobilising people to engage with homelessness in a different way.

Shane Record's painting of Folkestone homeless man Rob
Record’s first portrait of Folkestone homelss man Rob was the proof he needed that his paintings could spark a fresh engagement with the issue of homelessness. Image: Shane Record

“It was such a likeness that people started to take photos and show him and people started to notice,” said Record.

“One old lady came in the gallery and said she saw he reads books and she’s now brought him books. She’d never spoken to a homeless person in Folkestone before.

“It started to show me the power of this. I said to the Rainbow Centre that I can hold an exhibition there towards the end of this year and I want to do six portraits.

“I’ve got quite a profile here – I’ve been here nearly 20 years. It’s really nice to put that to use. I think my feeling is if I pursue it it will get more people volunteering, more people aware and more people just genuinely kinder about the whole thing.

“That for me is what an artist should do.”

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