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Artist's brush with Jayne

7 January 2016

Artist's brush with Jayne

Caption: John Kennedy says he owes his life’s accomplishments to the late Jayne Wilson, the founder of the Wollongong Corps’ First Floor Recovery Program, who inspired and encouraged him to pursue a career as an artist. Photo courtesy of The Illawarra Mercury

Artist John Kennedy can’t recall when he first walked into The Salvation Army Wollongong Corps bistro, but he has never forgotten meeting the manager, Jayne Wilson.

She changed his life. He owes much of the success of his art career to her, he says. “I think I was a little bit lost as to where I wanted to be,” John reflects about that time back in 1997. Jayne was managing the Banjos bistro and coordinating a hospitality training course for the unemployed. I was just trying to find my stage (in life). The moment that I met Jayne, she just picked up a creative baton and went off into all of these possibilities.”

Over the following months, Jayne and John collaborated to create advertising material for a newly established function centre above the bistro. It was Jayne’s ability to see the possibility and potential in every human life, usually directed towards assisting people to overcome addictions or find recovery from mental illness, that helped John glimpse his own potential as an artist, he says.

“Straight away, there was a sense of inclusiveness; of being able to contribute. She helped me see that, yes, I can do this. When someone else recognises what you do, there’s something very powerful about that; it takes you out of that lonely bubble. Jayne wanted you to be the best version of who you are. I was committed from day one. She helped me feel like I could go into this creative world. To see one of my artworks printed on the (building) door, it was just awesome. It gave me a taste of what could happen from not just introverting your ideas but actually taking action on them.”

With Jayne’s encouragement and inspiration, John pursued a career in art, and has since been part of national and international art exhibitions, as well as becoming an art teacher and inspiring others. Jayne provided the bistro and function centre to allow John to host his first classes. Not surprisingly, the themes of transformation and exploration of new vistas have come to underpin both John’s own artistic practice works as well as his key message to students. He is now a well-recognised artist.

Jayne died on Christmas Day 2013 after expanding the horizons of The Salvation Army Wollongong program to provide counselling and support services for people in addiction and their families, and also for police officers with stress-related issues, recently-released prisoners and a host of others needing help. It is now known as the First Floor Program and has been used as a model for similar programs in Sydney, Canberra and Canada.

Jayne’s enormous contribution to the well-being of others was remembered by the first Jayne Wilson Memorial Art Exhibition at the Wollongong Corps building in January last year. The second annual Jayne Wilson Memorial Art Exhibition, themed "Dreams and Visions", will be held from 21 January to 1 February this year.

John Kennedy was an obvious choice as the featured artist for this year’s event. “It feels like I’m coming full circle,” John says. “Everything that has happened is the result of coming here (Wollongong centre). None of the works that will be displayed was even in existence when I walked in here the first time and I don’t think it ever would have been if I hadn’t stepped through those front doors. It’s as simple as that!”

Submissions are also invited from other artists and those who would like to have their work considered for exhibition. For more information click here.

By Maris Depers

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