Painter Raelean Hall shelves her 'sane art' for therapy
BUDDINA artist Raelean Hall paints a pretty seascape.
Her Japanese-style watercolours of coastal vegetation meeting the thin yellow line of beach linking to white foam and blue ocean are technically perfect and easy on the eye.
She calls it her sane range or behind-the-covers art.
Make no mistake, the works are beautifully executed and hang proudly on the walls of homes and businesses.
Her talent has been recognised with success in the oils and acrylics section of Rotary Spectacular Brisbane 2012, the 2011 Shadforth Prize in the Rotary Art Coast Awards, the 2004 Noosa Art Prize, and the Best Portrait Award at the 2003 Caloundra Art Festival.
But the exhibition she will open at the Caloundra Regional Gallery next Friday occupies an entirely different space.
These are works of discovery; the products of a five-year process she hopes will deliver her PhD in art therapy.
The portraits in progress are collaborative, born of deep conversations with her subjects rather than a "sit still and stay" exercise in her undoubted talent.
Each is accompanied by a dissertation of those discussions, each subject having agreed to the full revelation of their identity.
Her subjects include Graham Stafford, jailed for 14 years for a murder he didn't commit, gastro-enterologist Melissa White, psychologist Lisa Lindley, children with disabilities worker Natalie Hennessey, nurse and art therapy student Jean Blyth, and investor Sharon McCourt.
They were encouraged to talk candidly about their experiences and to create pieces of art either through painting, drawing or sand play to delve deeper into personal meaning.
"It's a different way for me to approach my art; it's changed my style," Raelean said.
"The process is so authentic because it forced me to produce work the way they're aligned rather than it being about me validating myself as the sole creator.
"The pieces capture their energy in the vitality of our conversations. They are three-dimensional with aspects cut away and added.
"I took photos and as the work progressed changes have been made as a result of our staying true to our dialogue, art-making and collaborative understanding. It helps bring meaning to who they are.
"It's been a more complete way of connecting with the subject and has challenged what I put into the works and why.
"The subjects have been revealed in a very intimate way. It's not just about their clothes, their look or a mirror image. It's been a deeper approach to the subjects, controlled by strict regulations around the ethics involved.
"All have accepted their identity being revealed. I've consulted with each about what could and couldn't be included, but they were all very open."
Raelean found Graham Stafford "really quite generous" in talking about himself and curious about the process in which he had become engaged.
There is a black hole in the Stafford portrait that represents the aspects of his life that had been missing for so long during his imprisonment and the lost years of Leanne Holland, the Ipswich schoolgirl murdered in 1991.
"I became quite political in my approach," Raelean said. "And that is not normally my approach or intention."
She also cut away a body outline on the Stafford piece (within the black hole), something that is usually taboo because it weakens the canvas.
This part remains open to question regarding who killed Leanne, the weakened case against Stafford, and the police tape that sections off the dubious crime scene. Framed for the crime, yet this portrait remains unframed.
However, the exhibition is more than about art for art's sake.
The intimate approach to her subjects is at the heart of the doctorate in art therapy she is completing through the Melbourne Institute of Experiential and Creative Art Therapy.
Raelean already holds a science degree majoring in psychology.
Her thesis explores how art can be used to break away from the traditional model to attend directly to the needs of clients without the use of labels and assessments.
"There's no diagnosis," she said.
"Clients come to realise what's happening in their lives through their own inquiry.
"They learn to know themselves and what's happening through self-discovery rather than diagnosis."
Art therapy is used in helping people deal with mental illness and other issues being treated by teams working closely alongside psychiatrists.
Raelean has been invited to run a pilot workshop for masters students from Melbourne University and sees a future where she straddles two worlds, continuing her pure artistic endeavour as well as teaching art therapy workshops part-time, rather than moving into a full-time practice.
For the time being, though, her "sane art" has taken a back seat.