For Sydney artist Meg Minkley, art is a form of therapy. Her ongoing project A Drawing a Day began as a method to help her deal with the trauma of sexual assault. After being drugged and abused in her hotel in Mexico in 2013, she returned home to heal but she did not find the support groups she had imagined would be there. Instead, she drew. One drawing, every day. Determined not to feel like a ‘broken woman’ she drew strength from the colourful strokes of her copic pens, which helped her find a new narrative.
365 drawings later, Minkley found herself with ‘a happy heart and a very loud voice,‘ ready to share her drawings – her ‘saving graces’ – with the rest of the world. Minkley’s 2014 Pozible campaign exploded, funding a successful exhibition, and earning her an Australian of the Year nomination. Her vibrant works form an army of colourful companions, reflecting her bravery, resilience, and strength.
Minkley is a a collaborator at heart, and can be found running art therapy workshops for children, joining forces with artists with intellectual disabilities at Sydney’s Studio A, and brainstorming words, images and memories with her young cousins for her latest project, Dear SarBear. We spoke about the role of memory and emotion in her art, her collaborative projects, and her latest venture, FemFound.
Meg’s latest exhibit, Dear SarBear will be on display at Sydney’s 107 Projects will open on 14 September, until the 28 September.
A Drawing a Day started from a place of pain. It’s turned into a Pozible campaign, a series of exhibitions, and now workshops. What was it like to see your project grow in these directions?
Magic. Unimaginable and super humbling to say the least. It has felt at times a bit like what I think a mother feels when her babes start their first day of school – nervous and proud. If someone was to tell me this was the direction these quiet drawings and just one small story would go, I would have sooner believed I could have grown a third hand.
I feel very lucky that drawing up my own colours has had the profound ability to touch other people’s dark spots and to shed some rainbows on them. Through this unknowing process of art therapy, A Drawing A Day has started a bit of a strong community in story-sharing, art-making and giving voice to not just the taboos of rape and sexual assault, but the common ground of heartache, loss, new love, imagined lands, and the rhythm of life in general.
How did it feel to share something so personal with so many other people?
It’s a super nude feeling. Empowering, almost magical. It just reiterates that you can do anything you put your mind to (or don’t put your mind to). When we are just little babes, we do not overthink, instead we imagine and we dream and we create – without inhibitions. As we grow into adults, we seem to lose this magic. I feel like a lucky one, as an artist, I don’t believe I ever lost this – it took some fine tuning sure, but I am still the four-year-old imagination, just with more experience, rainbows and words to express.
It’s been three years since I first got naked with my most personal story publicly, and it’s been nothing but a perfect combo of bliss and hard work. I can be a bit like a bull in a china shop, when I have an idea I run with it on big impulse and spontaneity, thinking straight from the heart and what’s right, not always from the head. I wasn’t prepared for what was to come, as I first pressed ‘launch’ on that Pozible campaign. It has definitely changed and coloured me into who I am today. Paving this new, creative, unknown and exciting path that I am walking down.
What surprised you most about people’s responses to your work?
Their generosity in sharing and their big love to talk and know more.
I liked the way that you referred to the drawings from A Drawing a Day as ‘saving graces’, and even as ‘mates’ who you felt deserved to be exhibited! How did your relationship with the collection of works developed over time?
For the first year of A Drawing a Day I kept to myself and my studio, so naturally and a little subconsciously these colours became a really important things to me. One, words and emotions I could not have said or known to say. And two, representations of my alter egos, dreams, past self, future and present self – my mates, my fellow comrades, my confidants. Both of these things did not occur to me until I drew up my final illustration for the 365th day. It was ‘Oh I am Free’, and that’s exactly how I felt. That, and grateful for the colours for keeping me up and true to this new me. They were my mates, my therapy and my saving grace that no amount of money could buy.
Three years on, this practice is still my daily mantra, my mediation. Although often tackling new life rhythms or sometimes heart hiccups. If I don’t get my drawing done that day, I am not a happy camper.
You’ve been working with small canvases for A Drawing a Day, but are starting to work on larger pieces and even sculpture. What has taken your practice in this direction?
Since for always I have painted large scale. I had a show back in 2012 (just before I moved to Mexico) titled She, and this was a collection of very large painted works on old wooden shipping containers. When A Drawing a Day began, I naturally fell into the notions of illustration – A3 papers, an array of ink colours in pens and pencils. In order to achieve a drawing each day, I needed to keep things small. I have missed wide open spaces and the limitless scope of paint.
With the arrival of my next big show Dear SarBear, I am adventuring back into the large scale scope and mysteries of paint and installation (as well as drawing of course), but I am excited to explore the more palpable materials of acrylic’s and the playground of a larger surface – particularly when tackling the life and the loss of my favourite person, Sarah. She was larger than life, and I need the limitless cloud of a never ending space to really define these parts of her.I am interested in picking up my paintbrushes again and incorporating painting with illustration and my everyday tools of copic and posca pens,
Your current project, Dear SarBear is very touching collaboration with your cousins Liam and Ava, aged 4 and 5. How have you weaved their words, symbols and memories into the work?
Both Liam and Ava, are not just gifted little artists, but gifted little humans. Gifted with a hell of a lot of empathy, sensitivity and creativity. To work with them on any amount of colour is a privilege, but to work with them on a tribute to our SarBear is an absolute honour and a dream. Together we are able to enter into this new world of dreaming, and the meaning of real energy and spirit when a person is gone from our physical realms. We spend time colouring and snuggling, talking about where they met her in their dreams that night, her favourite colour, polkadots, where SarBear is now and her pet flamingo Gracie – whom only we can touch (according to Ava).
So you see Dear SarBear as an ongoing work?
Absolutely. When you lose your person, rewiring your life without them again is impossible. I see my art and my colour as a way of continuing my relationship with SarBear in a spiritual sense. I am excited to do a SarBear show every two years, with Liam and Ava. Sarah adored her niece and nephew, as did they and throwing a tribute to her every year or two is a wonderful way of them still being able to have the ability to grow up with her.
What does the rest of 2016 have in store for you?
Dear SarBear is my big creative focus for the larger part of this year. Working closely with Diabetes Australia is something I am currently trying to forge, I lost my cousin to diabetes and what funds are made from this show will be going towards research and funding for diabetes in Australia.
Also on the creative front, getting more creative workshops underway for A Drawing A Day is also front and centre. You can contact me to arrange a creative party or get together. Art therapy.
You’ve got some pretty big projects launching in the near future. I’d love to hear more about FemFound.
FemFound hopes to create personal and supportive relationships to build a community of individuals equipped with the resources that empowers them to start a conversation for their own benefit or for the benefit of another. This conversation will create a safer community and basis for those wanting to speak out against these issues or come forward with an experience of their own.
A global phenomenon that breaks down the social taboos and isolation that currently exist around rape and sexual assault. At FemFound we believe that rape is shit, but the conversations about it don’t have to be. FemFound is a safe place for conversation, creation and education.
FemFound is a huge focus for the rest of 2016, having just launched our very first crowdfunding campaign – the rollercoaster ride is definitely underway. A launch party for our website and crisis textline, I look forward to our first support group and awareness campaign. I’m excited to put together a FemFound art show also!
What advice would you like to share for those who have experienced rape and sexual assault?
You are still and always will be a full, whole, beautiful and soulful person. You are not alone, and with an open heart and a bit of time it gets better. Come and have a cuddle with the FemFound girls. We are creating a movement. And soon, very soon there will be no more silent elephants in our rooms, in our society.
You are worth it. And you are worth getting up in the morning, and being loved.
Where can we see you and your work next?
Dear SarBear, 107 Projects in Redfern. Opening night 14 September and runs until the 28th of September.
Keep an eye out on the FemFound website, Facebook page, and Instagram – we’ll be sharing details of our launch party soon. And as always, a drawing a day keeps the doctor away, so follow me on @adrawingaday and Facebook.
Best breakfast in Sydney? White Taro, Surry Hills
Favourite weekend getaway? Fingal Bay
Currently reading? Daring Greatly by Brene Brown
Secret for an instant good mood? Paint, posca pens and podcasts (conversations with Richard Fidler, The Moth, and How to be Amazing)
Any inspiring female artists we should know about? Frida Khalo!
If you are affected by, or are at risk of, family and domestic violence and/or sexual assault, contact 1800RESPECT – 1800 737 732. The National Sexual Assault, Domestic and Family Violence Counselling Service is available 24/7 for people living in Australia.