I’m Bec and this is the story behind my art.
I used to work full time in emergency services and then come home and do art every night.
Please note: For other peoples accounts I have changed and withheld all information from reality to protect full confidentiality. I have battled with myself whether to share anything at all, but I believe in raising awareness on serious topics so have decided to share my thoughts. This is a trigger warning about reading on, if reading about other peoples abuse triggers you.
Working in crisis was life-enriching.
But absolutely one of the hardest things I have ever done…
You are truly thrown in at the deep end after finishing your social science degree.
When I first started people would say to me things like –
“Wow, you are positive and doe-eyed to be working here.”
“This place will change you”.
I would laugh it off and think “What are they on about”?
But it kept popping into my head.
What did that mean?
You see, I went into crisis work unaware but excited. I remember saying,
“This isn’t even work. I am the luckiest person to work in this space.”
I still believe that, but I see it from completely different eyes now.
The Enriching Side
Working with people who walked a completely different path to me, from all different backgrounds and cultures changed me as a person.
For three key reasons:
- The respect you gain for others.
- Learning from others hardships and wisdom
- The ability to look at people from non-judgemental eyes and be in awe of their strength.
This is a huge inspiration in my art. The strength of women in particular, because they were my main client in support work.
You will see that often I combine women’s beautiful shape, with the ocean.
I live near the ocean in Perth, Western Australia. I have always loved the ocean colours and shapes and painted them.
That is me, an artist inspired by people and the sea.
The Daily Injustice
There were some key experiences in crisis work which I cannot forget.
Do not read on if accounts of abuse triggers you.
I could not believe the horrific reality of crimes that people endured, and were still occurring often.
I could not believe that a woman who had been stabbed several times by her partner, and left to die. Had survived. She was smiling and loving her children.
Only, the justice system, in Perth, Western Australia, failed them.
I thought all the systems were – SHMICKO.
Many are a mess.
In the area I worked in, a lot of the systems were barely working, honestly. Good people are the key, they make the systems so much better.
There was so much injustice going on in the community that previously I had no idea about. I couldn’t believe it.
Also, I could not believe that these people were literally, you or me.
They just had to endure a different path than us. And not by their choosing.
I also couldn’t believe how strong they were. And the fact that people still retained humour, honesty, kindness and hope in impossible times.
Don’t get me wrong – that is the light side of it.
So many people also experienced crippling mental health conditions. Post traumatic stress disorder and anxiety so badly that they couldn’t physically leave their house.
Or a personality split into several different personalities making their life extremely hard to navigate. All as a result of the intense trauma that they had dealt with.
Their brain literally split into different personalities to cope with that.
Later, they are dealing with multiple criminal convictions, a mental disability as well as homelessness and multiple drug addictions.
But they are a strong individual, and honestly an absolute joy to be around but a story so severe you couldn’t even make it up.
There was a person who told me they turned to self medication through different drugs, at first, I felt knee-jerk judgement, but when they told me that their first drug was at 9 and given to them by their parent, this changed my perspective again and I knew I needed to fight all of my immediate thought processes and prejudice.
When you hear someone’s story, then see what they have achieved, you build and gain a whole new understanding and respect for them.
Art To Cope – Art Can Heal You
I would see this trauma and pain at work, and then I started to go home and paint for hours.
The painting started as dabbling and then moved onto a wonderful art obsession. I thought I was addicted to art until I realised I needed it to cope.
First I was just painting, then I started doing paint pouring, then resin. Creating for fun, turned to making so much art and sharing it with others.
I wasn’t thinking of selling my art or teaching it, but my partner believed in me and my art, and when I shared it – others did too.
When people I had never met started asking me questions about how to create art themselves and a genuine interest in learning. I just wanted to share.
My employment helped to fund my art hobby until eventually I realised what was truly making me happy in life.
And that was creating and sharing.
So I quit emergency services, it was definitely my time. I had never experienced so much physical sickness and anxiety symptoms were creeping in. I would get anxious going shopping for groceries.
My physical and mental health was declining, and my ability to be the best worker and support to others that I could was too, I needed to quit.
I chose jobs which made me happy, and focussed hard on art.
More On The Harsh Reality
What you don’t get taught, and learn through really challenging experiences is how much organisations are restricted by funding. To the point of limiting the ability to actually support people.
Which is what you are there for, and so committed to.
Funding limitations or not. You are there because you care.
Sometimes you feel you care more about these people than yourself.
Sometimes I would sign on at 6am and off at 11pm at night to support clients and my colleagues.
But only get paid for less than half those hours. Then lack sleep after. And desperately wish for more staff to come to assist.
Staff never lasted long in this space.
When you are working with people who are some of the most disadvantaged in Perth. Whether they are experiencing homelessness, substance addiction, a lack of rights, visa issues, complex mental and physical disabilities or people who had been abused in unbelievable ways.
Your job is to provide a service to support them. No matter how limited your resources are.
Feeling Exactly Where I Need To Be
I am so grateful that to protect myself I can just shut off from that harsh reality. But there are so many people who are still living it.
Art is an incredible way to develop meaning and raise awareness with others. Art is also what has been healing me slowly, along with the ocean over the past few years.
Talking to other artists and other people it is amazing how many others are needing to heal from painful experiences and find the ocean or art calming too.
Now I feel compelled to combine my love for working with people with my love for art. And my strong opinions on social issues too, depicted in meaning through paintings.
Why hide what you have learned, when you can bring joy to more people by sharing it?
The art world is endless, there is enough room for us all to find our art superpowers and get joy out of sharing them together in an art community.
I am working hard on building a safe art community space for all. Based on the love of creating and positivity through my project – Canvas In Common. Where I teach fluid art to others.
I hope creativity helps you through the tough times, as it did for me.
Thanks for reading some of story. Let me know any questions in the comments below.