You’d think that as a homeless painter, the North Bay’s winter rains would interrupt Michael Koerber’s daily work schedule, but he doesn’t mind all that much.
“It makes it fuzzy,” said Koerber, 60, pointing approvingly toward the already abstract acrylic works propped up against a tree in the corner of the Petaluma Caltrans lot where he lives with his 56-year-old wife, Angela. The canvases and pieces of glass he paints vary in size, each given to him by friendly passers-by or clients, or purchased at the art supply store where Michael Koerber likes to buy his paints.
This is the fourth winter the two have spent living on “the street street,” as Angela Koerber called it, after the car they were living in was towed and they didn’t have enough money to retrieve it.
The Koerbers settled in this space on Payran Street on Petaluma’s east side, where they soon got to know nearby business owners, outreach officers from the Petaluma Police Department and other neighbors who now accept the couple’s presence and their growing array of art.
On days when the North Bay weather cooperates, Michael Koerber displays his pieces along a rain culvert on the north side of the Caltrans lot — an unofficial gallery highlighted by a street-facing sign that reads “Gutter Art Created by the Local Hobo.” The sign, Michael Koerber said, was made by a neighboring publishing business that recently closed.
His modern works are crafted in arrays of vibrant colors, using objects he and his wife find on walks to create shapes and patterns in the paint.
“It’s kind of abstract symbolism,” he said.
Some days nobody comes by. Sometimes, Koerber can go a week without selling a painting, which retail at a range of prices from $40 to several hundred dollars. Anyone interested should inquire with Koerber in person, he said.
His style wasn’t always so abstract. A binder he carries of past works shows dramatic portraits, surreal landscapes and a wide variety of styles such as pointillism, realism, caricatures and works done in the manner of two of his favorite artists: surrealist Belgian painter René Magritte and Italian expressionist painter and sculptor Amedeo Modigliani. The nature of living outside, though, means Michael Koerber doesn’t have the same amount of time to commit to his work these days.
“I can’t really concentrate on doing serious stuff because there’s wind blowing and wood chips,” he said, referencing the ground covering that he uses as a studio floor. “Our friends — all the homies — will come by, so you can’t really concentrate on anything.”
Sometimes Petaluma Police Officer Ryan DeBaeke, who heads up the city’s Homeless Outreach Services Team, will stop by to say hello.
One time, DeBaeke bought Koerber a set of paints.
“I’ve kind of sort of developed a friendship with them, really,” DeBaeke said.
“In a way, they’ve kind of figured out how to be homeless because they don’t ever cause any disturbances. They pick up after themselves. The businesses that they sit near don’t have any issues with them. So yeah, they’re good people.”
You can reach Staff Writer Christi Warren at 707-521-5205 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @SeaWarren.