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Nikki Vias

Resident Stringer of Words

The turn of the year is a reminder of how we are our worst enemies when it comes to achieving our potential and ultimately our own definition of happiness. However, it’s also important to remember that the path leading to this isn’t usually the kind of least resistance; it’s difficult to learn what your place is in this world and even more difficult trying to get there.

The life choices we make are what make us. In this post, we relate how the seemingly small decisions can be the most powerful at turning life around. In the same way, the worst decision you can also make is not making one. Often we cling to the fear of failure that we choose either the safer route or to not make decisions at all. This lessens the likelihood of reaping rewards in life. But remember: The road to the joyful life you seek isn’t without pain.

To illustrate this, we did an interview with Malini Parker, a scientist-turned-artist and creative teacher based in Perth. Malini has held many solo and collaborative exhibitions across Australia and abroad, featuring her works that explore the ideas of growth and adversity, and lacing it with grace. To her students, she is best known for being a catalyst to enabling and re-enabling their creativity. Her most popular class thus far is her introductory art workshop, Painting for Beginners. (Learn more about Malini’s love affair with WeTeachMe.)

But life wasn’t always peaches and cream for this acclaimed Perth-based artist. In this sprawling interview, Malini shares with us her life journey, how she overcame adversity, and how decisions (as well as the fear of making them) have been the key to shaping her life entirely. We’re also excited to share that Malini is giving away ONE (1) FREE SEAT to her most popular art class. Contest details are found at the end of this article. Enjoy!

The Interview
Malini, please tell us a bit about yourself and your background?

When I was a teenager at University, I spent an awful lot of time sketching everything around me. But I wasn’t in art school. The art happened in Maths class, Chemistry labs and Physics lectures! I realised some years later that all my degrees in Science (I have 3!) were just the beginning, as years later, I finally did get to Art School… And was at last able to say the four words I was craving all along: “I am an artist”.

Actually, I now say I’m a “scientist-turned-artist”!

Living in Australia and looking the way I do, I’m often asked where I was born. Australia is such a delicious melting pot of cultures, and although I’m proudly Australian now, I was born in Malaysia, of ethnically Indian parents. I’ve lived in Australia for most of my life. I often say I’m only Indian on the outside, but inside, I’m pure Vegemite. 🙂

This may be a bit broad, but why art?

I discovered my creativity pretty much by accident. You see, I wasn’t a very good scientist. I can’t add up, do the same thing the same way twice, measure things precisely and accurately – the list goes on! And reproducibility, accuracy and precision are the basis of good scientific research, which I was involved in for several years.

Not feeling great about my science career, I pretty much left it after I got my Masters degree in Medical Science. I then worked in the performing arts for a number of years, both as a singer and as a production manager, with my husband who was a composer and musician. We had a small child then. Life was exciting, but totally exhausting.

I eventually got sick and needed a break from it all. So we sought a sea change and moved to the country, to a beautiful coastal town called Albany. And because I wasn’t well enough to hold down a job, I went to art school for something to do!

How was life for you before becoming an artist? Did you enjoy being a scientist at all and how did you get into it?

Actually when I was a scientist, there were more nights than I can count when I would cry myself to sleep thinking of going to work the next day. I worked for the University of Western Australia’s Department of Medicine with an amazing and world-class team of medical researchers, but I just felt like a square peg in a round hole. I became a scientist not through some grand plan; it was just what I studied in high school as I was too afraid of the ‘creative process’ that seemed unstructured and scary!

Can you describe the time when you first realised that creating was something you absolutely had to do?

Yes absolutely! It was in my very first week of art school. I felt as if my head and heart were exploding. A whole new world opened up for me as my creativity was “awakened”. Pretty soon, making art was all I could think about. It was like falling in love!

It was like I had been in a deep sleep for decades, and like the fairy tale, one kiss awakened me. However, Prince Charming was actually my creative self. 🙂

The experience was so profound; I have dedicated my life to introducing others to their “creative self”. So, my business is essentially about that: I run a matchmaking service! “Meet your Prince (or Princess) Charming. Learn how to paint. You won’t look back and nothing will ever be the same.”

What is the one decision that made the biggest impact in your life?

Hmm, that’s an interesting question. How far back should I go?! I guess the first thing that springs to mind is the decision to show my massage therapist how I paint.

It happened like this: It was a difficult period in our lives, as our daughter was very sick, and I couldn’t leave the house easily. So, I had a massage therapist come in once a week to give me an hour of stress relief.

Noticing all my art in the house, she would often ask me if I would teach her how to paint. I had so many other concerns on my mind, that I really just put her requests in the ‘too hard basket’. But she was persistent, and after months of this, I finally gave in, and said, “Bring some mates and I’ll teach you lot how to paint, but I can only give you a day!”. She took up the challenge, we all had a BALL, and that decision marked a huge turning point in my life. Sharing my techniques and my love for creating with others who have never painted before was an amazing experience and continues to be, seven years later.

What would you say has been the most seminal experience in your life?

Nursing my husband through four years of chemotherapy and eventually companioning him as he took leave of this world. Greg was an exceptional man, and his inspirational story was featured on ABC TV’s 7.30 report just weeks before he died. He was a musician and composer – and his charisma, faith and service impacted thousands of people in his short life. He was “grace under fire” in those cancer years, and I watched the way he lived and died with the “fire” of cancer with astonishment. It was a transforming experience for both of us.

He embodied and brought meaning to this mysterious verse from the Baha’i Writings, where the Divine speaks to us and says, “My calamity is My providence, outwardly it is fire and vengeance, but inwardly it is light and mercy.”

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given that has impacted your life forever?

“Everything changes.” – my mum

Remembering this during the dark times (and there has been plenty of those) has given me hope that every dark tunnel of sorrow will eventually end in light.

And during good times, remembering that advice helps me stay grounded and grateful, and not get too attached to anything, because everything changes. So, those two simple words have helped me remember the fleeting nature of life and to learn to trust, to hope and to be detached from good and bad.

Is the artistic life lonely? If it is, how do you counteract it?

It was a little lonely before I started teaching beginners. Then my world opened up in ways I could not have previously imagined! Now, frankly, I’m a little addicted to the transformation I witness when beginners (particularly those who are a little terrified) come to my workshops!

I might be some kind of alien creature from science fiction – I’m convinced that I absorb the creative energies that are unleashed in the room when a group of students gather to make art!

What makes you angry?

On a personal level, when I make life decisions that aren’t brilliant and I feel like I should know better! I get angry with myself but I’m learning to forgive me and move on.

On a wider level, the abuse of children and animals.

What was your scariest experience?

Your questions have made me realise, even more than I thought, what an amazing ride it has been since I discovered art. Plenty of scary stuff has happened in my life, but making art, sharing it with others and teaching it has been…just joyful!

Is the artistic life lonely? If it is, how do you counteract it?

It was a little lonely before I started teaching beginners. Then my world opened up in ways I could not have previously imagined! Now, frankly, I’m a little addicted to the transformation I witness when beginners (particularly those who are a little terrified) come to my workshops!

I might be some kind of alien creature from science fiction – I’m convinced that I absorb the creative energies that are unleashed in the room when a group of students gather to make art!

What makes you angry?

On a personal level, when I make life decisions that aren’t brilliant and I feel like I should know better! I get angry with myself but I’m learning to forgive me and move on.

On a wider level, the abuse of children and animals.

What was your scariest experience?

Your questions have made me realise, even more than I thought, what an amazing ride it has been since I discovered art. Plenty of scary stuff has happened in my life, but making art, sharing it with others and teaching it has been…just joyful!

Please tell us about your most memorable artist and teacher experience.

My very first solo art exhibition was quite a highlight. I’ve had 9 solo shows in total, but that one stands out in my memory. It was a HUGE event, and had press coverage, and the late Robert Juniper, one of Australia’s legendary artists, came to the opening with his wife, and they purchased four of my pieces!

And to top it all off, he invited me to visit his home and studio, and gave me a little art lesson! It was such a generous act to a fledgling artist, and I will never forget seeing my art as part of his beautiful and famous collection, as well as meeting him as well as the hundreds of other people who supported my first show and made that event so special.

My most memorable teacher experience was when a student wrote to me after a workshop and said that she found peace and kindness in my workshop, and that it gave her hope. I get a lot of beautiful feedback from my students but those 3 words touched my heart deeply, and I’ll never forget them.

Did you ever feel at any point that you wanted to give up (in terms of life and career)? How did you overcome this?

When I was in my last year of art school, I had a terrible assessment from one of my art teachers for my entire body of work. I had put in a HUGE effort, and she publicly criticised it in a way that was not at all helpful, but rather crushing. I was accused of being “overly concerned with aesthetics”, the good parts of my folio (there must have been some!) nor was any attempt made at acknowledging any of my tremendous effort. I have no problem with constructive criticism, but this was more of a public flogging.

In the aftermath of that “flogging”, I responded like countless others would have.

I contemplated giving it all away. Art. Studies. Creative pursuits. Everything. If this was what making art was about, then I was never going to cut it, and perhaps now was the best time to leave, at the end of five years of study, before I made a complete fool of myself in the art world.

Fortunately, I came to my senses. It took me a long time to recover from that experience but when I did, what emerged what a very clear understanding of the sort of artist I wanted to be, what sort of art I loved making, and why. It was even hugely instrumental in shaping what sort of teacher I would later become. So now, I cannot be more grateful to that lecturer who disliked my work!

How has everything that happened to you thus far, shape you as an artist?

I’ve learned that life is fleeting and changeable and through this, I’ve come to value detachment from outcomes, both in art and in life, as being the key to peace and balance (and good art). And really, not to “sweat the small stuff”. 🙂

What are you trying to communicate with your art?

Well, it was adversity that led me to art, and ever since, adversity has been my constant companion. So it’s become the theme in most of my work; I try to paint the journey from adversity to “the other side” and all that happens in between.

Adversity is never what it seems. I once heard it being referred to as ‘a gift that is wrapped up in sandpaper’! It’s a mysterious phenomenon – that humans need tough times in order to become tough. And I do love a good mystery! So I paint these paradoxical, yet intriguing ideas: that beauty and growth arise from periods of darkness and despair.

Lastly, what would you tell someone who is afraid to make that first step to change?

I would say – *unused creativity is a dangerous thing*. It can eat away at us from the inside, and I’m living proof of that.

So, go make some bad art. No one will die if you make a bad painting or a wonky pot! Just make some more. Eventually, your creativity will expand beyond your fears and your life will change.

Liz Gilbert said it best: “A creative life is an amplified life. It’s a bigger life, a happier life, an expanded life, and a hell of a lot more interesting life.”

Who wouldn’t want that?!

The Wrap Up

Speaking with Malini has reaffirmed our belief in that if what you want is out there, then just go for it! The fear of failure can deeply set us back and embracing uncertainty, risks and failure is the only true path to happiness. Filmmaker George Lucas said it best: “We are living in cages with doors wide open.” The saddest thing in life is unused potential, so when you find that thing that makes your heart beat, pause to breathe and take the plunge.

Did this post inspire you to take your next brave step?

Join Malini’s giveaway to find your own creative self! Click here for your chance to win a FREE ticket to Malini’s Painting For Beginners Workshop valued at $395.