“In primary school, a nun would stand behind each of us during art class and talk about our pictures. That nun stood at my elbow, put on a disapproving frown and moved on without a word,” says Kadira Jennings.
Jennings has had a checkered artistic career that began with a lot of self-doubt. But from that initial insecurity bloomed a thriving artist and art teacher. Kadira now runs Art Classes Central Coast, which holds 6 classes a week and has an enrollment list of forty students. Now in its sixth year, Kadira states that teaching has been, “What keeps my eye and hand in the art world when I’m not doing my own work. It keeps you ticking over.” That philosophy was true even before Art Classes Central Coast started up in 2010. Jennings has been teaching on and off for the last 25 years. And that expertise carries through onto her canvases.
Born and raised in New Zealand, Kadira attended Elam University in Auckland studying a Bachelor of Fine Arts before moving to Australia. She began studying with a private teacher, Judith White, on the Northern Beaches and later moved up to Central Coast. Jennings received further instruction from David Andrews, an artist who had been trained at Julian Ashton in Sydney. Before working with Andrews, Jennings laughs, “I couldn’t draw properly.” She credits the two years of instruction with Andrews with one of the most important aspects of her art: learning to mix color properly. That led her to her first major solo exhibition at the Charles Hewitt Gallery in Sydney in 2000.
After losing her father, Jennings found that her painting was stifled. She took a hiatus and then picked up a paintbrush much more seriously in 2011. A popular theme in both Jennings’ teaching and art is promoting “abundance through creativity.” She elaborates that there is a false picture of artists starving in a gutter and sacrificing to create great art. She maintains that creativity can, indeed, bring abundance – not just monetarily, but also through the richness of teaching creativity and art. Kadira states that one of the most rewarding bits of teaching is the moment where students come out of their creative state and say, “where did two hours go?” She’s not just teaching technique. She’s teaching meditation and a way of connecting to self.
Jennings’ advises aspiring artists looking to become financially sustainable that it’s not just about selling paintings. It’s about finding different revenue streams. The arms of how creativity manifest are interconnected – teaching supports art and the art supports teaching. She feels extremely fortunate to do something that she loves full time. Most people don’t get that opportunity.
On a trip back to New Zealand in April of this year, Jennings heard a news program on the radio reporting on a plane of refugees landing in Dunedin, New Zealand. The entire city had turned out to welcome these people. Her first thought was about how greatly that contrasted the Australian attitude towards refugees.
She took some photos of the hot pools in Rotorua, New Zealand and, upon her return to Australia, began painting some abstracts based on those photos. A figure started to develop out of the mist and she developed it. That painting became Refugee, the first in a series that later gave way to You Are Welcome Here. After completing the painting, she was speaking to a student about it and the student asked, “Well, you’re a refugee aren’t you?”
That question sparked the entire series. In a way, states Jennings, she is a refugee. The term relates to people who are forced to leave their home, often because of war or a similar circumstance. This series is really about displacement, about the country we belong to that’s calling to us. Jennings plans to continue the series over the next two or three years.
New Horizons is Jennings’ latest work. One of the panels was inspired by an online news item about the cultural damage that’s been done in Syria. She says, “There’s more to this displacement than people having to leave their homes. Heritage is being destroyed. I believe there’s a lot to be explored here and the process has been just integral.”
Check out Kadira Jennings’ incredible work at her website here or on her Bluethumb gallery. The series of refugee paintings will be on exhibition at the Ruby Tuesday Gallery in Kincumber 3/12/2016-2/1/2017.