BY MELINDA SCHNEIDER
Who are you, really? Which traits are natural? Which ones have been nurtured… moulded?
If you’re anything like me, these questions are unsettling. For the answers, I needed to explore a medium devoid of words. You see, words and melodies were the artistic tools I’d employed for decades – but to unpick the stitches of perfectionism, which had come to imprison me – I craved visual abstraction. Abstract Expressionism, in fact. This fluid style, wielded so eloquently by artists such as Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning and Barnett Newman, inspired me to break free from the unrelenting standards that kept the real me hidden behind a shiny smile and a veil of ‘perfect’ celebrity fog. Behind the fog, I was lost in a deep sea of depression. Painting was my lighthouse. It led me to be free and express myself without the critical inner voice.
I recently celebrated 40 years in the recording industry, I first recorded when I was 8 years old. Being thrust into the public eye at such a young age and with such high expectations of the people surrounding me was not easy. Outside approval became a means of surviving. If ever I didn’t hit the mark perfectly, if I failed, I was dealt with quite brutally emotionally speaking. It was damaging for a child’s developing brain to grasp and as my way to survive the trauma, I became a perfectionist and workaholic. These methods I so naturally adopted were unconsciously used as a way to avoid failure and the feeling of shame that came with it. The survival mechanism of workaholism worked for decades, but in 2018, my nervous system couldn’t take the pressure anymore and I had a collapse. I spent 6 weeks in bed, but started to recover with complete rest and self-care, but of course, I started to push myself too hard again and another bout of depression hit me in 2019. It was then I realised I could not fix this myself. I needed help. I saw a psychiatrist and eventually agreed to try medication. It helped to pull me out of the deep, dark hole I was in. Surrendering to the help was the hardest thing for me to do, but by far the best.
I have been recovering steadily, but in order to do so, I have had to incorporate lots of changes in my life. I have learned to lower my expectations of myself, be gentle on myself. I exercise regularly, eat healthy food and make sure I always get enough sleep. I acknowledge my more difficult feelings and allow them, instead of pushing them down and denying they exist and most importantly, I create. I took up painting in 2020 during a Covid lockdown and it helped me learn to express myself without judgement. I have a very kind and nurturing teacher, Annie Reid, who has taught me that there is no right or wrong in art and sometimes happy accidents happen and you create something amazing out of something that some would consider a mistake. This concept and Annie’s gentle and loving methods of teaching have allowed me the freedom to be me artistically. I never judge my painting work harshly and this has been a breath of fresh air for me. It is helping me to heal and stay well.
I recently held my first art exhibition in Lithgow’s Gang Gang Gallery with my friend and RAMHP Coordinator, Sonia Cox. We named it ‘Nature and Nurture’.
I created my works by applying acrylic to plywood with brushes, twigs, rollers, rags and sponges. I adore plywood for all it’s gorgeous flaws. My techniques are akin to the rhythmic pulse of song writing. I draw inspiration from the fauna, flora and ancient spirituality of the Bouddi Peninsula (GuriNgai Country) – my home. When I started these paintings, I’d hoped to convey my frustration, and speak to other trauma and depression survivors. What eventuated was quite different. These works have uncovered an organic, gentle strength – perhaps, this is my true nature. The one I was born with… whole, complete, unique.
My hope was that people might see their own journey in these works and feel a sense of resolution.
My hope is that people see, and embrace, their natural self.