STORMS COME EARLY EXHIBITION, August 2015
In her new exhibition, Melbourne artist , Kerry Armstrong articulates her experiences leading up to and following her brain surgery earlier this year. Diagnosed with a brain tumour 4 years ago, Kerry found that in painting she could express the things that cannot be said in any other way. “This series helped me scream out my passion for life and all its curve balls, irony, twists and turns. “
Living with a brain tumour, Kerry found herself facing up to life on a knife edge, having to get dirty and deal with it. Life is full of contrasts, like a beautiful painting, and you work with what you are given. With her husband Michael, Kerry chose to make dramatic lifestyle changes, grasping the precious immediacy of life and not waiting for ‘someday’.
The other thing that Kerry found was that when you have an illness, everyone you meet has a story. And not all of them have happy endings. Yet there was an overwhelming expectation for her to be positive, even as her life was stripped down to bare metal. She says, “I find curious the strong need to frame it up and label it, throw words at it like 'brave, courageous' when really the person who has to face it really doesn't want to be brave or labelled but we continue on with the theatre necessary to make everyone feel like they have participated appropriately!”
“I think as humans we’re so hopelessly in denial about these serious life issues and as much as we think we're intelligent, advanced beings, we don't face this part of life well at all. We're so basically hard wired to survive and fear mortality, this interferes even with the most sophisticated mind's approach. “
Surgery loomed over Kerry, the tumour was fast growing and when her symptoms worsened the operation became urgent. Kerry’s artistic process has always been spontaneous, a release for her subconscious thoughts and memories. During this time Kerry painted her dark terrors as the Just Before Sleep series. She says that it was like a rope to her, a way to pull through and express her fear and anxiety, the sense of urgency, turmoil and anger that she lived with. These paintings are the fearful thoughts that come in the dark before sleep, when we are at our most childlike and vulnerable, the time when we can be most honest about our lives. The slashes of cobalt blue in these works articulate the impossible volatility of her situation.
Just before surgery, the Water Garden series emerged . These abstract floral works are the dream of all that lay waiting on the other side, beyond the operation. This was a period where the fearful volatility gave way to pragmatism and strength, when Kerry and Michael sold their house and bought their dream home complete with artist studio. These dreamlike works are Kerry looking forward, fantasising about their new life in the new home, which is surrounded by gardens. One of her favourite works is from this time – the intensely personal “Five Letters to You.”
After her successful surgery Kerry first expressed her emotions in a series of small sombre paintings, and then experienced a blossoming of colour she describes as operatic. A crescendo of emotion that was itching to come through as paintings and which is expressed as the brilliantly colourful Mikado series.
“So,” says Kerry,” to sum up - storms come early in life (every time) and catch us unprepared, warts and all for the ride.”