A sensual feast lies behind the doors of Jumping Creek Studio. The walls are adorned with Shani Alexander’s trademark Floral Heroes – bold canvasses of vibrant flora in full bloom, a metaphor for woman in her full splendour.
The explosion of colour provides a backdrop for an eclectic mix of beautiful furniture and inspiring artefacts; a pheasant peeking around a lampshade, outrageous feathers and assorted treasures all create a most magical world. Florence Broadhurst, a glamorous white poodle, sits quietly on a couch, overseeing proceedings. A huge wooden table loaded with books, paints, and yet more treasure dominates the centre of the room, and is a gathering spot for conversation, scrumptious food, and experimentations with paint.
Shani believes that every woman that walks into her workshops has been guided there for a reason. No previous art experience is needed; Shani gently supports students the process of creating a painting, over several exquisite days. She explains, ‘I feed and nurture [my students] over three days, I welcome them into my studio, my world of beauty. They leave with gold that they didn’t even know was waiting to come out.’
Faced with an enormous blank canvas, my brain felt like a creative void. I was determined to immerse myself in the experience, and to learn. An intention setting ceremony and beautiful morning tea was followed by a few hours of experimenting with colours and techniques, and talking about how the day would be structured.
A divine lunch on the verandah provided sustenance for the next session, in which Shani somehow had me convinced that I could actually do this. She encourages participants to create a personalised soundtrack and to listen to uplifting, beautiful music during the painting process. We ramped up the volume and danced and sang as we painted together — and by the end of the first day, I was amazed to see a real painting emerging. We celebrated with a Pimm’s and dry ginger – Shani’s signature end to the day’s work.
After three incredible days, I had painted an enormous, vibrant camellia — my confidence soared. I left with so much more than a painting. Part art therapy, part gastronomic extravaganza, part music and dance therapy, all combined with some serious hours of painting, the workshops explore our often hidden creativity. Art, for Shani Alexander, is life.
All she ever knew at school was art; “All I ever thought I’d be was an artist.” Her initial application to study art was rejected though, and she recalls, “the bottom fell out of my world. I was heartbroken and I had to go mainstream.” Mainstream for Shani came in the form of psychiatric nursing, a long career as a flight attendant, and the creation of a hugely successful corporate re-location agency that moved over fifteen thousand families into Melbourne. All the while, a voice in her head was whispering, “never, ever, put your paints down.” And she didn’t.
Throughout all her career twists and turns, there was always a creative pursuit, a pin money business, running in the background. By the mid-eighties, Shani was married with a little one, and another on the way. Still dreaming of that formal qualification, she recalls, “I gathered my baby and my [art] stuff, walked into Monash Uni as a heavily pregnant mature student, and finally enrolled to study painting and printmaking.”
A divorce, and the death of her adored brother, guided Shani to chaplaincy which, along with her art, she considers an absolute calling. A vibrant, dynamic chaplain, Shani describes herself as, “not for the faint-hearted. I sit with people. They die in my arms. To guide people over the threshold of death is incredible. There is an honouring of the spirit.” She discusses this aspect of her life with grace and dignity. “Death is such a profound time and should be held in reverence. Sometimes coaching is needed.”
Shani never put her paints down, and a few years ago, it was apparent that all had come full circle. She packed up her city life and moved, with partner Colin, to her beautiful Wonga Park studio and home. Following her heart, Shani now spends her time creating painting workshops that are a reflection of her self — joyful, generous, abundant and uniquely creative. Drawing on her professional understanding of the human spirit, she offers women an opportunity for self-expression, lifting the soul through art, music, fabulous food and her infectious joie de vivre.
She feels that it is, “our mission is to be joyous and to express who we really are.” Quoting Leunig, Shani Alexander laughs, “It’s as simple and as difficult as that.”