Elderly take to the easel

Mary Cramer''s works, currently on display at the Walker Street Gallery.

By Gabriella Payne and Danielle Kutchel

Residents from five aged care facilities throughout Dandenong are proving that it’s never too late to learn a new skill as they channel their inner artist for a new exhibition.

The residents’ artwork is now on display as part of the ‘9 by 5’ art exhibition at Dandenong’s Walker St Gallery and Arts Centre.

During Melbourne’s tough lockdown, the Greater Dandenong City Council delivered a number of art packages to Dandenong’s aged care facilities, encouraging one and all to pick up some paintbrushes and let their artistic side shine.

These gifted art packs included videos of art workshops and many nine by five inch blank boards, ready for residents to paint, draw, sketch or collage and ultimately enter in the annual ‘9 by 5’ community art exhibition.

Over the last few years the ‘9 by 5’ exhibition has become a nationally recognised art event which celebrates the rich diversity of the community.

An open entry event, artists from around Australia are invited to submit their work – providing it fits the ‘9 by 5’ frame – in all sorts of different styles, and this year over 270 artworks are being displayed on the gallery walls.

Now in its 15th year, the exhibition is a celebration of local creativity and pays homage to the original ‘9 by 5’ exhibition held in Melbourne in 1889, which featured notable artists such as Tom Roberts, Charles Conder, Arthur Streeton and Frederick McCubbin, whose ‘9 by 5’ artworks were painted on cigar box lids.

More than 130 years later, the exhibition is still going strong and is now open to the public for viewing – featuring the works of Dandenong’s aged care residents and other entrants, young and old, from far and wide.

Mayor Angela Long said the artistic initiative was a fantastic way to spread some positivity to local aged care residents, many of whom were stuck inside without visitors during the peak of the pandemic.

“We were thrilled to be able to bring our exhibition to residents in aged care,” Cr Long said.

“Feedback received from the services indicated the gesture put a bit of a spark in the lives of residents who hadn’t been able to go out and have visitors.”

88-year-old Mary Cramer, a resident at Regis Dandenong North, relished the opportunity to get involved.

She’s been painting since she was a child and said she likes to focus on capturing the landscapes of the places she has travelled to.

She also enjoys painting animals, with both those themes on display through her works in the exhibition.

Painting has brought her solace throughout her life, she said, helping her to escape a bad childhood and filling her days while she lived on base with her army officer husband.

“I feel no problems, no worries. It’s so relaxing,” she said.

“I think every painting has to tell you something, you’ve got to get something out of it. It’s got to tell you a story.”

The exhibition also includes pieces by first-timers Alicia Li Santi and her daughter Nerea.

The mother-daughter duo say they inspire each other, with a passion for art and craft threading through their lives.

Alicia specialises in watercolours, and this year is the first time she has “gathered the courage” to show her work in public.

“I never thought I had the talent to be worthy of showing anything in public,” she laughed.

Her painting represents one of her favourite trees, a ghost gum.

“Even though they are dead trees, they are full of life,” she explained.

Nerea, a silversmith by trade, has been learning print-making and has exhibited her print of a blackbird singing in the night.

Both artists are grateful for the opportunities afforded by the Walker Street Gallery, to exhibit and to visit and view the creations of others.

“We’re really representing our local community in these 200-plus artworks – how special is that!” Nerea said.

Whether participants were seasoned artists or first-time entrants, Cr Long said the exhibition was an exciting opportunity.

“What is so special about this exhibition is that many people who just like to make art but wouldn’t necessarily call themselves artists can participate. We have young kids and people who have never exhibited a work in a gallery who participate,” she said.

“We are proud to share these innovative works with you and excited to welcome you back to the Walker Street Gallery and Arts Centre.”

Visitors are encouraged to visit the exhibition and vote for their favourite artwork as part of the people’s choice award, which will see a few lucky winners receive art packs and a free ticket to an Arts in Greater Dandenong workshop of their choice in 2021.

The ‘9 by 5’ exhibition is open now and will run until Saturday 23 January. Opening hours are Tuesdays to Fridays, 12pm to 3pm and Covid safe practices such as mask wearing and social distancing apply.

Exhibited works will also be available for sale to support the artists. For more information, visit www.greaterdandenong.vic.gov.au


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