MY LIFE—WORK VERSES ART:
The joy of creating over creating wealth
As a child, I enjoyed creating what I see or images in my mind with colour on paper or canvas. I would go into “the creative zone” and spend hours drawing or painting. Once I missed a visit by favourite relatives because I was “in the zone” painting a Central Australian mountain range.
I remember at eight years old, painting with acrylics at my grandmother’s house. I loved the process of paint gliding and flowing from the brush and how my mountain became a volcano smoke billowing from its mouth and snow gracing its slopes. I was hooked.
But, in the 1970’s, with the rise of the status of women in society, the prevailing attitude was that every woman has a right to education, university and a career. The culture of the day was instilled in me that art was merely a hobby. So I never considered doing art as a career. My year eleven teacher cried as I chose Chemistry over Art for my final year. I reasoned I could always pick up art (as a hobby) once I left school.
This I did in 1981, my gap year. I joined a local Art Class in Glenelg and Arthur Phillips taught me to paint with precision, like a photograph, layer upon layer, with acrylics. I admired Arthur’s skill and enjoyed the classes that were always filled with laughter.
However, as a poor university student, I had to give up Art Classes. I thought the Art Club at University would suffice. But it didn’t. The University Art Club at that time, seemed to be more focussed on social activities than getting together to paint.
After graduating in 1985 with a Bachelor of Arts (majoring in Japanese and English), and then in 1986 a Graduate Diploma of Education, I entered the teaching profession and in 1987 relocated to Melbourne for my first job. After eighteen months of teaching teenagers, many of whom did not want to learn, coupled with a feeling my life had been hijacked by school, I quit teaching. I then took up a Research Officer position with Fusion Australia, a youth and community organisation that had an office in Murrumbeena, not far from where my husband and I lived.
Soon after I began working there, the community centre associated with where I worked, put on a community event—painting a mural with the help of a well-known local artist, Arthur Boyd. He shared his struggles as a professional artist over his career, making ends meet. This conversation opened my mind to the idea that for some (who were good enough) art can be more than a hobby. I now wonder what happened to the mural he helped us paint. The church in which the community centre was housed at Murrumbeena was knocked down and the land developed into a nursing home in the early 1990’s.
In 1989, my friend from church, organised art classes with artist Geoff Rogers as our teacher. Geoff taught me to loosen up with my paintings—more flow and movement in the scenes of the Flinders Ranges I painted.
At the same time, the local community centre offered art classes which I joined. There I continued my loose-with-palette-knife rendition of the Gammon Ranges’ Bunyip Chasm. The art teacher discouraged me. ‘You can’t do that, it looks awful,’ she said.
Later a friend came up to me as I was painting and remarked, ‘I love it! Can I buy it when you’re finished?’
I decided Geoff Rogers’ style suited me and kept with the loose style. I framed Bunyip Chasm which at the time cost $80 and then offered the painting to my friend for $100.
‘Oh, I can’t afford $100, dear,’ she said, ‘can you make it less?’
I loved my Bunyip Chasm and said, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t lower the price as the frame cost $80.’ To be honest, I was too attached to my painting to part from it.
For the next twenty-two years, Bunyip Chasm decorated the walls of the homes we lived in. I gave it as a fiftieth birthday present to my sister-in-law as it was a favourite of hers. I then painted another Bunyip Chasm in the same style, but different, and that sold too.
When my children entered our world, I couldn’t paint—no room in a two-bedroom unit, and even when we progressed to a larger home, life was busy raising a family. So nineteen years passed without touching a brush or canvas. When we returned to Adelaide, with the boys at school, I enquired about art classes, but was told the same story again and again—the classes are fully booked, you’d have to go on a waiting list. There must be a lot of people doing art in Adelaide, I thought.
Then in 2009, I joined a writers’ group. At the same time, the art-bug had bitten and I began painting with an artist friend from church. I shared how I found it hard to separate from my paintings, they were like my babies. My friend’s husband said, ‘But you need to share your work and bring happiness to others.’
Half-way through the year, a fellow writer invited me to join Marion Art Group (MAG). ‘Just bring along some of your work,’ she said.
Gulp! What if they don’t like my work? But I steeled myself and armed with three recent pieces of art, I went down to the hall where the group was held.
No worries, I was accepted. And by the end of the year, I’d sold my first painting, Cockling at Goolwa, to another MAG member.
In my first MAG exhibition at a local shopping centre, I sold my second painting, Brachina Sunrise. Then…nothing sold for two years. Effects of the GST, perhaps. Customers not spending on luxuries like art.
I persevered with painting, attending MAG studio sessions every Monday morning, and exhibiting my work with MAG and with the local Rotary Art Show. Through workshops, videos and practice, I taught myself watercolour painting. The sale-drought made me work through why I paint. I came to the conclusion I paint because I enjoy it, and can express the joy and glory of God’s creation. Perhaps that’s why I mostly paint landscapes.
Then, in 2012, I put my work in another exhibition. This time, I invested in a full screen—I had so many paintings piling up and reasoned if they don’t sell, at least my friends and family can enjoy going down to the shopping centre and looking at them. I came home one afternoon and the phone message light was flashing. I listened to the recorded message. ‘Congratulations you have sold…’
Hooray! Since then, I have sold paintings—several every year. I guess at this stage the money made is “hobby money”. And I remind myself, it’s not what I sell, that’s important, but that I enjoy the process of painting…getting in the creative zone. And maybe for others who connect with my paintings, bringing joy into their lives too.
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2016
Painting Father and Son in Brachina Gorge by Lee-Anne Marie Kling (c) 2009
Note: Watch my blog over the next few days as I post a painting a day beginning with the ones mentioned in this post.
Read more "To Work or to Paint…that is the question."