She Paints a Black Canvas

With each question she stumbles. There is always the momentary pause before a response. She is quietly spoken so you have to be attentive otherwise you’ll miss what she says. Silence. She is trying to wrap her tongue around her emotions. It’s hard to put feelings into words.

 

She starts in year 11, second last year of High School. The critical moments of life. She had hit the ground running but slipped and fell, never seeming to get back up.

 

Every lesson is a blur. Nothing stays in. She is losing control. She is falling apart.

 

These kinds of struggles don’t leave visible scars. They’re hidden and disguised in memories, images and even new moments waiting to catch you unaware. Sometimes the greatest people carry the biggest burdens.

 

“I had seen a social worker only a couple years before and they just said I was lonely.”

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Those years spent as young adults are said to be the defining moments of one’s life. You figure out who you are and what you want to be. It’s the time where the most of the pressure is put. If you don’t step up, you’ll fail. Fail school. Fail at life.

 

 

You’re supposed to start growing up. Get a job. Go to university. The normal things she says.

 

“Art was what kept me grounded.”

 

For years Alyce had been fighting a hidden battle. Deep within the realms of the mind and guarded by the scariest of feelings. People say it’s just a faze. All girls go through it. She’ll just grow out of it. But this has nothing on puberty. This is real. This is depression. This is anxiety.

 

“Over time it stripped me of the capacity to do any of the required classes that would allow me into university to study the course that I needed to.”

 

“I knew what was required and I wasn’t making the cut.”

 

“It was hard being left behind.”

 

She tells of mental health lessons. She would be sitting there, listening. Listening to words like depression and anxiety. Ticking all the boxes. It would be something to look into at some point but not now.

 

“Bit of a regret,” she laments.

 

“Spent the time learning the hard way.”

 

Looking at her now you would be amazed. Since 2011 she has been a dominant player in the Tasmanian art sphere. Three solo galleries. All sold out before the opening night.

 

“I remember sitting in the car getting all these phone calls from the gallery on the day they were hanging my first show, whenever a piece was sold.”

 

“I had put my whole soul onto those canvases and people were just snapping them up. I didn’t cope with it very well at all. I still don’t.”

 

She is gaining momentum now. Making up for lost time. The world is big and full of opportunities again. Reachable. Visible. Now that the fight has been won.

Working as an artist isn’t a stable career. It’s not easy. Not many people make it.

 

“Being an artist is one of the hardest jobs out there,” she says.

 

Her dad is an accountant. He asked the hard hitting questions. How can you financially support yourself? Your husband? Your family? He fought. Fought with the idea of his daughter dreaming away her future.

 

Her mother. Her mother understood. She knew art wasn’t some young adolescent dream of running away with the circus. This was an escape of another kind. An avenue to express the detailed workings of the mind. The pain. The hopelessness.

 

“Another artist once gave the advice that not every piece has to be a masterpiece, sometimes we get caught up in the pursuit of perfection, but really the important thing is to finish works, learn from the mistakes and to progress.”

 

Much can be paralleled to her experience with anxiety and depression. Always being told to be a certain way. Feel a certain feeling. Now she is learning from her mistakes. The mistake of keeping silent for so long.

 

“You get to the point where you have two options. You ask for help or…”

 

She doesn’t finish her sentence.

 

Mental health is a lot better than it was four years ago. People are being educated more. Non for profits like Beyond Blue and Helpline are widely known. The long prevailed taboo has disappeared but left behind is still a heavy stigma.

 

“People just don’t understand how serious it could get.”

 

Unless you have gone through it, it’s hard to understand. But awareness is better than silence. Mental illness is a hard thing, harder still to admit to it.

 

“For me asking for help was the hardest thing. For years of my life I’d tried to push through on my own.”

 

Everything looks different in hindsight. For one thing, Alyce is using her art as a way to help others understand their own feelings and emotions.

 

“For me are those quiet moments when you can see someone truly connect with a work on an emotional level. It reminds me that my job is a privilege.”

 

Being an artist doesn’t mean you’re careless with your time. The need for discipline is greater than most people would think. You don’t get out any more than you put in. She details the long hours of planning, pondering, sketching a piece before it even makes it to the canvas.

 

“I would normally be frantically working on 7 pieces at once for an upcoming solo show, but I have taken a year off to re-evaluate what I want to do and to explore new ideas and techniques.”

 

Life isn’t so daunting anymore. She shares her most pivotal moment. Her description?

 

“I was in a big hole getting sucked into it.”

 

Silence.

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