JACKIE ELLIS was a police officer in a small New Zealand town when the violent murder of a male colleague prompted her to reassess her life and follow her childhood dream of becoming an artist.
After the tragedy, she jumped on a plane to Australia and began an epic, soul-searching bike ride around the country.
“The colleague who was murdered was Murray Stretch – a mature, capable, strong, fair and decent man,” Ellis says.
“His murder shocked me, he was just so capable and calm and it was a huge blow that caused me to face my own mortality.
“I needed to leave nothing to chance and give being an artist a go…”
Ellis had planned to cycle all around Australia, but once she got to Kununurra, a town in the far east of the Kimberley, she fell in love with its remote beauty and never left. For the past 16 years she has been capturing the raw and mystical beauty of the region in her landscape oil paintings.
“In particular I am drawn to the rivers, and the life that springs from the water moving across the land. How it carves and shapes the land,” she says.
“What I have learned in the Kimberley is that water is life, and without it, there is none. That one can live in awe. Feel very small and yet connected. That we are made of energy and we are at our core, the strongest when we operate from love.”
Ellis loves water so much she lives with her husband on a house boat on the Ord River.
“The Kimberley is amazing, huge and wild, with big water – big rivers,” says Ellis, who grew up in Africa. It is majestic and breath taking. I love walking remotely for weeks at a time. I feel immersed in nature there.
“The community is tight knit and welcoming. There is a connectedness that is very rare, being remote we look out for one another and take care of one another.”
After nearly two decades of painting the Kimberley, Ellis decided it was time to taker her art on the road and share it with others in her first major retrospective exhibition Joy & Light.
She loaded her 30 artworks into her bright orange VW camper van and made the epic 3000km drive from Kununurra to Perth, just before Christmas. Luckily she left just before before the Fitzroy River floods which cut off direct access to the capital.
But she wasn’t done yet and drove the paintings to Alice Springs and Port Augusta, making the total journey a whopping 5300km. Now she’s back in Fremantle and exhibiting at the Kidogo Arthouse.
It’s an impressive collection of paintings with the largest nearly two metres tall by one metre wide, reinforcing the vast mystical beauty of the Kimberley.
“The artworks are all explorations of energy and emotion,” Ellis says. “I am depicting what can’t be seen, the underlying energy of places and people.”
There’s still time to catch Joy & Light at the Kidogo Arthouse at Bathers Beach before the exhibition finishes on Sunday night (February 19).
by STEPHEN POLLOCK