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The Inspiring Story Of Kirsten Roberts’ Powerful Survival Paintings

Creative People

A couple of years ago, Kirsten Roberts was on a career trajectory most people dream of. She had a successful international women’s mentoring business alongside CEO stints, management consultancy roles and even stand-up comedy gigs, until she suffered a life-changing neurological episode in 2019.

Forced to stop for the first time in her life, Kirsten turned to art to heal herself. What emerged was a revelation for the born-again creative: a powerful painting practice that grapples with the strength of women and the artistic spirit. Now she uses her art as a way to spread a fierce political message of self-worth to other women. It’s a truly inspiring story.

29th June, 2021

Photo – Nikole Ramsay.

Photo – Nikole Ramsay.

Photo – Nikole Ramsay.

Photo – Nikole Ramsay.

Photo – Nikole Ramsay.

Photo – Nikole Ramsay.

Photo – Nikole Ramsay.

Photo – Nikole Ramsay.

Photo – Nikole Ramsay.

Photo – Nikole Ramsay.

Photo – Nikole Ramsay.

Photo – Nikole Ramsay.

Photo – Nikole Ramsay.

Sasha Gattermayr
Tuesday 29th June 2021

‘I would never have described myself as creative until my 40s.’ – Kirsten Roberts

Artist Kirsten Roberts doesn’t abide by standard definitions or linearities. But by the commonly accepted notion of chronology, she came to her painting career late in life. After the onset of a neurological condition in 2019 forced her to slow down, she began nurturing the creative side of herself that had been there all along, but not yet manifested in the traditional artistic sense.

‘I spent time in rehab learning to walk and talk again, and in the time since then painting was a way that felt calm and connected for my brain, and didn’t take too much out of me,’ she says. ‘In fact, it was like it organised the pixels of my brain, so some of the connectors that weren’t working some of the time could start to flow more freely.’

Kirsten found that if she spent an hour painting she could feel the neural pathways connecting more and her stiff leg would start functioning well again too. This physical strength bolstered her mental fortitude and vice versa, and as she began to grapple with the fickleness of control (how invisibly we have it, how quickly it disappears), she started exploring the notion of power on her canvas.

Kirsten’s current body of work is called ‘Let Her Speak’, a collection of abstract paintings depicting women fighting to be themselves. These paintings are bold in colour and composition, struggling to contain the female energy bursting forth to spill their bodies and voices into the world. There is a duality here that Kirsten is investigating: ‘For some who have viewed this painting, it invokes a feeling of freedom and power, and for others it invokes a feeling of trying to break free so they can let their voices be heard.’

The artworks are materially complicated, layered with incredible textures: acrylic paint, collage, spray paint, graphite, oil sticks – whatever she can get her hands on to deliver the desired feel! ‘I love the history that comes from multiple layers of paints, a glimpse of a line, a ride of painted over collage, some amazing colour poking through or an interesting watermark,’ she describes.

Before the onset of her condition, Kirsten was a corporate high-flyer. ‘I was an auditor at Ernst & Young straight out of uni, and had a corporate career in management consulting, as well as a business owner and CEO of the franchise food group Spudbar, that all valued a very masculine way of doing things,’ she say. ‘It wasn’t until just before I was 40, when I realised how much of myself I was sacrificing for safety and acceptance that I allowed myself to change.’

In the nearly decade since Kirsten made that decision to turn away from more traditional pathways, she’s embraced a completely new way of life that values creativity, resisting the status quo and opening up her vulnerabilities. Healing after her episode two years ago was just another step in the journey towards voicing a fierce political message.

Undeterred (in fact, energised!) by her change in circumstances, Kirsten is currently working on a project with the education company OneWorth, where she has partnered with clinical psychologist Sandy Burnett to combine the science of psychology with the freedom and intuition of creativity to teach young girls how to harness their self-worth over a six-week period. It’s currently for girls in mainstream education facilities, but is also being delivered to organisations like headspace and complemented by an online program that helps parents create safe home spaces that nurture self-worth.

‘My purpose in life is to bring more girls to the table. To lead. To direct. To co-ordinate. To consult. To hold. To care. The table is the table of life, of leadership, of business, of politics, of impact, of community, of love.’

Respect, Kirsten!

To keep up with Kirsten’s projects see more here.

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The Design Files acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which we work, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.

First Nations artists, designers, makers, and creative business owners are encouraged to submit their projects for coverage on The Design Files. Please email bea@thedesignfiles.net