‘Working Under the Shadow of Happiness’ – online exhibition

‘Working Under the Shadow of Happiness’ explores the notion of happiness within the lives of people with disability and/or mental health issues. 
Tristana Fitzgerald, Lynne Kells and Owen Renfrey are artists from a community art group at Kew Neighbourhood Learning Centre, who have worked in a variety of media including printmaking, painting, photography, drawing and prose.

The artists in this exhibition each offer a highly nuanced account of living as a person with a disability, presenting an alternative perspective to the pervasive view that the difficulties of disability must result in misery.

Concentrating on the fact disability and/or mental health issues are no barrier to achievement, satisfaction and contentment, the artists provide the opportunity for you to participate in an exploration of happiness.

This exhibition is supported by the City of Boroondara Community Strengthening Grants program and Rotary Club of Balwyn.

Banner image: Lynne Kells, detail from ‘Through the magnifying glass (happiness in a past life)’, 2021, mixed photo collage, alcohol ink, card and acetate on wooden ply board, 21 x 29 cm, image courtesy of the artist.

Tristana Fitzgerald

My work for ‘Working Under the Shadow of Happiness’ explores how we feel and express our emotions through our everyday lives; the way we live in today’s society, adapting to change. We are all on a personal journey exploring the meaning of happiness and the impact it has on our lives. This is what I am exploring as an artist, through evoking different emotions with my work. This series of work is attempting to understand the importance of how individuals live outside the norm everyday, and the way that impacts on how our world is perceived in that moment.

My series of works tell individual stories of our experiences and coping mechanisms during these challenging times in lockdown; how we overcome the feeling of isolation. The way we live within our environment currently is forever changing and adapting - the work I produce evolves just as life evolves. My art encourages the viewer to think about their life.

I am very passionate about printmaking and the technical side of it. There are no limitations, success or failures when it comes to printmaking; it is experimental, and that is what I love about it. My interest is in the human form and creating abstract works. As an artist, I put my mind, body, and soul into my work. Art is for everyone, regardless of where we live, our age, background, socioeconomic or personal circumstances.

I would like to be considered as an artist, not a person with a disability who is an artist.

Lynne Kells

Art is my daily passion, my medicine, meditation about issues and concepts drawing me. I describe my artworks as intuitive and an attraction to colour and creation is reflected in my work. I am constantly conceptualising how to present the ideas I have about myself and the world around me. My aim is to express energy within a piece that hopefully people resonate or empathise with.

In depth discussions between the artists in the exhibition prompted the theme of this show. The exhibition title 'Working under the Shadow of Happiness’ refers to the pressures on society to be happy and appear happy when outside our home, the influences on happiness and how changes in circumstances influence this state. In stark contrast to this, is a preconception that the disabled are not happy (and paint in dark colours) mostly disseminated by the Media. We invite you to join us in exploring happiness; what makes us happy, do these ideas change with age, circumstances? Is our search and expectation of happiness a shadow or implied pressure preventing us from experiencing it?

I hope that the artwork I have created for this exhibition touches the viewer and promotes consideration of the value of all members in our communities, how we can be manipulated by what we see in the media, how important consideration and inclusion is to the foundation of happiness amongst a few matters presented.

Owen Renfrey / Axel Dimitroff

Owen Renfrey was born in 1950 to a German migrant mother and Bulgarian migrant father. His real name was Axel Dimitroff.

Due to their difficult circumstances, Owen was adopted at 6 months by the Renfrey family and became Owen Renfrey. Sadly, Owen endured many damaging experiences in his childhood and was diagnosed with a psychiatric disability at age 15. Despite periods of despair and loneliness, self-medication with alcohol, tobacco and other drugs common to those with lots of pain, the essence of the kind, the insightful, the philosophical, musical, weather-obsessed and very intelligent Owen would regularly emerge, the man who could have and should have been.

Owen spent some of his happiest times in Hawthorn Community House and Kew Neighbourhood House, where in his last ten years he grew into a rich creativity with the help, love and support from his many friends, teachers and family who helped him to give up alcohol, gambling and smoking and to take up painting, express his inner life in his writing and enjoy friendships.

Owen died on 1 September 2019, at age 67 and is much missed.

Engraved garden seats in his memory can be found at both Hawthorn Community House and Kew Neighbourhood House.

Owen was a foundation member of the art group and this exhibition of some of his works is a tribute to his memory.

Artist statement

How has art changed me, and my perception of the world around me?

According to Amanda, my art teacher, I have now developed my own style of painting i.e., how I experience the world.

This is true because every person’s view of the world has to be unique. All human beings however share one strand of consciousness. Sooner or later we discover that one day we will inevitably die. The Egyptians built pyramids so that their kings and queens could have an afterlife.

This in itself a human art form. Most cultures follow some sort of ritual performed around death. However, you can use art to express anything from your emotions to your intellect.

I have this fascination with colour. In my eyes certain colours seem to attract or repel other colours. Is this a natural way of viewing things or is it just the way I see things juxtaposed?

In my art I have in one watercolour, tried to represent the universe or Cosmos. Interestingly within the picture I can see an image of a duck. One of the first things that Angela (family member) gave me a wooden duck.

Maybe that was in my subconscious. Also, I know exactly where I am in the picture, a blue sphere within the swirling mass of creation. Art is full of symbolism – take for example, the indigenous art of the aborigines and their stories of creation in The Dream Time – or the Christian cross, the icon Christ was crucified on.

There has been throughout the ages of art and architecture, from Classical Greek to Notre Dame gothic cathedral to the Sydney Opera House. Sometimes art is expressed in prose and poetry. This has changed me in a profound way. I attend a writing group, which is on Monday afternoons. Louisa Syme always has an interesting subject to brainstorm and write about. I learn from the group also.

It brings out or educates – brings out things in me that surprise me. Did I write that? I guess these two forms of expression and understanding of the world is to me in a way a journey which makes sense of and is tangible evidence of my multi-faceted life.

In other words, the story of my life.

– Owen Renfrey

Exhibition photography

Browse the exhibition by scrolling through the image carousel below.

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