It sounds like an ad. An endorsement. But it’s true. And she isn’t selling anything. Julie tells me it’s The Best Week Of The Year. She is playing with bits of paper and paint, in a classroom, in the middle of Auckland, on a 25 degree C Tuesday. Julie is a student in one of the University of Auckland’s summer school art classes.
I meet Julie as I, also a summer school student, invade her room in search of a story. I am in a class of twelve. We are a motley assortment of individuals: differently aged, gendered, driven; one with his name already on a book cover, most still dreaming of it; some young, with perhaps a singular news story or a world shaking investigative piece waiting, lurking somewhere in their future; others looking towards a change of pace, a leap into self employment, or adding another layer to a life already fully lived. Our desks, on this muggy morning, are littered with newspapers, pens, water bottles and spiral notebooks, large, small and in between. Our brains too, are overcrowded with ideas, with words, with editorial angles.
Julie’s brain is different. Julie is creating art. She’s in the ‘Joy of Creativity’ class. Unlike us, with creations concealed in scribbles on a page, the art students’ environment assaults our freshly primed observers’ eyes. Their work hangs on walls, leans on chairs, and scatters itself on tables. The art room oozes ideas: cartridge paper cutouts collaborate with bar codes in a collage; monochrome cows munch in canvas meadows; a slithery sausage of brilliant blue squeezes out of a toothpasty tube onto a composition already scorched by the burnt orange torches of cannas that flame outside the classroom, already incorporating a suspended ceiling of jacarandas, the grey city concrete banished by artistic licence in a metaphysical leap to the cool dappled tones of a rainforest floor.
But there, in the midst of this outburst, is Julie. She did the same course last year. Same week. Same classroom. Same tutor. The Best Week Of The Year.
Julie’s tutor is Gail Haffer, an enthusiastic, overflowing woman, her style captured in a fake feather boa that illuminates her artist’s black with rich, iridescent purple. Gail embodies creativity. Julie doesn’t. Julie comes here because Gail helps her find it. Gail’s room is as loud as her purple feathers. A saxophone solo draws us in and a bluesy harmonica riff farewells us. “Why do you play music in your room?” I ask, as I linger in this kaleidoscopic cavern while my writing mates move on to the painting class. Gail looks at me as if I belong in a remedial reading class, not a university. “Music is energizing,” she says. She obviously decides that, despite appearances, I am worth educating and drags me over to the CD player. “See?” she says, as she stabs the stop button and invites the silence back. It’s obvious, of course. I mumble something meaningless and scurry off.
But Julie is still there. In the ‘Joy of Creativity’ class. Gail challenged her class to find something they had a real antipathy to, and to explore it. Last year Julie explored confinement. She created an installation of boxes. She explored release as well. “So you cheated”, I say. She laughs as I apologize for my presumption. “Yes, I did”, she says. This year she’s exploring something else she hates – being compelled. Gail wants a big creation. Julie is making it big by putting lots of small bits together. So far she’s painted a heart encircled by an alphabet. So she can turn it whichever way she wants.
When she gives me the Best Week endorsement I am momentarily stunned, just like the mullet. I recover enough to ask her about the other weeks, and come away with a vague image of a home with limited space, nowhere to put the big installation – last years boxes have moved off, one by one - of a family dispersed, just a housewife. Later I realize that it is her anticipation of fifty-one lightless weeks, starting the day after tomorrow, that shocks me. For Julie it’s on or off, black or white. Or maybe black and purple. I am left with a curious sadness. I say goodbye to Julie, and hope that one morning, maybe on a dark July day, when she turns her heart around to ‘C’, she sees not bleached coral, but glowing copper, wearing an incandescent crown of crimson.
© Shelley Arlidge
12th February 2007