The art of emotional healing
The art of emotional healing
15 January 2019
Like most artists, Wollongong’s Gennifer Anderson has a complex relationship with her medium and its ability to convey and invoke emotions.
The feature artist in the 2019 Jayne Wilson Memorial Arts Exhibition uses art to process her emotional responses to events in her life, mapping her healing journey and creating complex, layered works which rely on epoxy resin to, literally, hold the pieces together.
“I’ve always loved collage,” Gennifer says, “I don’t stick with boundaries, and I’ve never been good at staying within the lines. Early on I was doing a lot of things that my teachers would advise against. So I had to develop a way of making it all work, and that’s where I turned to resin and started incorporating that and it just worked.
“Resin is a necessary evil for me. I don’t use it as most resin artists do, as a pretty covering, with a perfect finish. For me it is a means to an end, it holds things together so that I can do what I need to do, because I know that the resin will be there forever.”
There are parallels between the medium and the emotional nature of Gennifer’s paintings as, just like our inner world, the resin “is never neat and tidy, there are imperfections, the air bubbles are still there, there’s sand stuck in the top of it.”
Echoing this, the current body of work created for the exhibition represents Gennifer’s continuing emotional journey following a series of traumatic events in her life – the death of her father and father-in-law in a short period of time as well and losing family members to suicide. Painting during this period allowed her to “hold together”and work through the grief of these losses.
“I’ve always painted as a way of dealing with things and so through this period I was painting madly and trying to support my family and caring for people. And the paintings were very emotional as a result of this,”she says.
Not surprisingly, the works have also allowed people an insight into the emotional experiences of both the artist as well as their own inner world. In 2017, when the works were eventually displayed, however, the response she received came as a shock to Gennifer.
“It was a powerful process,” she says. “It is a very unnerving experience to have people look at your work and know what it means. I spent most of the week explaining the art to people and speaking about it and realised that people were actually feeling a lot of the emotions that I had gone through during the process of creating the works.”
While this process took its toll on the artist, it also created another layer in the journey towards healing. “It was an extremely personal experience and it was difficult because I wasn’t sure I could sustain the reaction to the works. People wanted to talk about the work and subject matter. But I did and in the end it was very therapeutic.”
For Gennifer, who received the Wilson Family Award at the 2017 exhibition, being invited to return as the 2019 feature artist represents another important step in her emotional and creative journey.
“The exhibition’s theme is laughter, which for me is very similar to joy,” she says. “In my last exhibition I was trying to work towards the light, but they were very dark paintings because I was feeling really dark. So it’s time for healing and time for the joy to some back into life, so I’m looking at colours and images that bring joy and lightness.”
Honouring a creative spirit
The exhibition, established by The Salvation Army First Floor Program (FFP) in Wollongong to honour the creative spirit of program founder Jayne Wilson, who passed away in 2013 from cancer, sees work from all over Australia exhibited alongside the feature artist who is chosen every year.
“We wanted to involve the community in honouring Jayne’s legacy,”says First Floor Program Team Leader Marilyn Dunn, “Jayne loved art and used it frequently in our support groups and programs, so this was a way we could combine these elements and celebrate her passion for family, recovery and hospitality.”
Each year members of the Wilson family choose the winner of the Wilson Award for the work that best represents Jayne. “Winning meant a lot to me,” says Gennifer. “It was validation on a bigger scale. I’d entered lots of exhibitions and I’ve always sold work, but you put yourself out there on such a personal level so to get that sort of validation from a group of people that don’t actually know me, was very special.”
This opportunity has also allowed creativity to grow in other ways, with Gennifer securing a Wollongong City Council Wards Based Arts Grant to run a series of workshops in partnership with the FFP during the exhibition, inviting the wider community to be involved in the creation of an installation to be displayed in a joint exhibition with the FFP at Wollongong City Gallery in July this year.
“The installation will be made up of small pieces which come together to become a part of something larger,”Gennifer says.
The Jayne Wilson Memorial Arts Competition and Exhibition will be officially opened by Colonels Mark and Julie Campbell on Friday 18 January and will continue until Monday 28 January at Wollongong Salvation Army, 11-13 Burelli Street, Wollongong.