My Story: The Art of Healing

By Leonie Harris Photography by Carrie-Ann MacFarlane

My Story: The Art of Healing
When Leonie Harris was diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson's, her life could have taken a turn for the worst, instead she is thriving and surviving, discovering new talents and using art and sculpture to heal. This is her story.

Pablo Picasso says, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” I’d like to share with you my story. I hope to inspire those of you who have experienced grief or loss, who have always wanted to try something creative but have never found the time, opportunity or courage to believe you could actually have a go. I believe to practice any art is the way to healing. The art making process is like a magic medicinal tonic that never runs out. The more you use up the more you have.

Art has always been my one true passion. In primary school, I lived for Friday art class. I attended a modest little school in Melbourne’s inner city suburb of Collingwood. A concrete jungle, perfect for games like elastics, skippy and hopscotch. I remember having ‘ants in my pants’ pacing around the playground, never straying far all Friday lunchtime, desperate to ‘dibs’ the first spot. We would form two even lines, straight backed, noses pressed against the tall heavy Gothic doors, waiting for the nuns to finally unlock them. In my little world, void of colour or frills, this was my dream, my Oz, my utopia. Inside a Pandora’s Box of endless possibilities awaited us. We were given the space to play and create freely with no preconceived ideas. Those hardwood desks inside the art room were gloriously loaded in inches and inches of spilt colourful paint, pure evidence of the fun lesson that finally awaited us.

Life can be undoubtedly unpredictable. A gob-smacking diagnosis of Early-Onset Parkinson’s at the age of thirty-eight catapulted me into switching on my gift of creativity. Prior to this I had been quite contented playing Domestic Goddess, a busy mum of four. No gypsy could have foretold my future or convinced me that anything positive could have come from this dire situation at the time. Now, a little older and wiser, I realise that life throws challenges for us to learn from and without darkness there can be no light. Life needs to be experienced fully to produce a level of spirituality and depth needed to produce good art. This ‘gift’ has allowed me to produce art and teach art for eleven wonderful years.

Naturally I searched for answers; meditation, exercise, a love for nature, quiet contemplation and stillness all helped strengthen my core constitution. Nurturing my inner child also became important in helping me rediscover my past and the frailty of innocence. Unfortunately, society robs us of the jovial naivety we have as children. Through the pressure of expectations, conformity and indoctrination – stress and anxiety are becoming more prevalent and are major causes of illness and disease.

Disease can also fester when issues are not dealt with but hidden away. The art making process helps me deal with issues unconsciously and with no need for words. Healing even happens in the planning process. The mind is kept busy by finding resolutions to art problems. I have no time to focus on negativity or the giant obstacles placed before me, I always try and hurdle over them.

Leone Harris

Artists often create what they know or what is familiar. My sculptures reflect how I’m feeling about my body, some capturing the movement and fluidity that I now physically lack. They’re visual statements made without speech that help me subconsciously work through, understand and accept my situation. The feminine energy I channel into my art is highly emotional. I recollect and embrace familiar changes; being a girl, then a young teenager, discovering sexuality, maturing into womanhood, embracing motherhood and the liberating freedom of middle age.

Although I began my creative journey as an abstract painter late in life, my appetite to continue learning and pushing boundaries has seen me delve into a variety of different art forms, including weaving, soft sculpture and ceramics. These intervals were like a whirlwind, coming and going. For a while I would naturally gravitate back to the safety of the familiar – painting. Not blatantly obvious at the time, these intervals where necessary stepping stones that would ultimately lead me to where I want to be. Sculpture is physically demanding and was not on my radar at all until one day a work colleague suggested I perhaps try bringing my painted abstract figures to life in a medium like clay. From then on there was no looking back!

I have been extremely fortunate to continue my education at the prestigious Tom Bass Sculpture Studio School in Sydney’s Inner West. I have attended for two years now I feel I’ve earned the label #apprenticesculptor. A bright, charismatic studio space, revered to the fundamental teachings of Tom’s sculpture philosophy. I thoroughly enjoy the essence and energy of all the like-minded people who come from all walks of life. It is here I have been fortunate to study under the umbrella of two scholarships with Wendy Black, Karen Alexander and Michael Christie, all brilliant sculptors. Last year my sculpture ‘Clara’ won a Director’s Choice 2016 Award. Now, knocking at the door of fifty, I have just been offered a Scholarship in Life Class with the dynamic Ingrid Morley. I am elated. I will learn to draw with clay. It is going to be the next challenging step in the learning and healing process of my brain and body.

Art is medicine for the soul. You should try it sometime.




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