Christine Georgiou has 30 years of experience under her belt as a visual artist and educator. But this time her students are the ones having their spotlight moment. And the teacher is not exactly passing the baton to the younger generation; quite the contrary actually.

She has organised Express Yourself, a collaborative exhibition at Steps Gallery next month, in which a group of her students from Arts on Burgundy will be showcasing their work. The majority of participants are retirees who only recently embarked on the journey of creative expression through drawing and painting.

“Most of these people have not exhibited before, as they put it on hold for all of their lives despite always having wanted to do it.
“So they’ve come to the class to basically learn how to draw and paint and I’ve nurtured them, held their hand and encouraged them along the way,” Georgiou tells Neos Kosmos.

Showcasing their art, she explains, is a way of celebrating their achievements and motivates them to keep going, while for some, seeing their work framed evokes tears of joy given they have used painting as a form of art therapy.

“For those who’ve had some terrible experiences in their life, it becomes part of healing and along the way they’ve become friends with each other. It [the class] becomes quite a community.”

Other than a couple of students in their 30s, the rest are in their mid-70s or older. Classes are intimate with groups of up to about 12 participants and levels of experience vary.

Far from paying lip service to inclusiveness, the educator invites people from all walks of life to join and channels her energy into helping them tap into their potential according to their needs and interests.

“One of my students has Parkinson’s disease and she used to do a lot of really fine watercolour work. She knew I am the sort of teacher who encourages all forms of art, that no matter what your skills-base is I would find an arts medium to suit you.
“So now she’s taken up abstract painting and I’ve encouraged her to do everything she wants from monoprinting right through to watercolour. We’re also looking at different artists she had never been exposed to and she’s saying this changed her life … she’s just loving it.”

Another gentleman she refers to is a former Royal Ballet dancer who is suffering from dementia and “doesn’t miss a class!”

“I believe that anyone can learn to draw and paint. It’s my philosophy that as long as you tap into the person’s interests and direct them to particular artists and particular periods of art along the lines of the style they like and then find the medium that suits them […] they will have success.

“That means within my classroom everybody is doing something totally different. It’s crazy but fun,” she laughs.

A group of Christine’s students sketching outdoors. (L-R) Allan, Trish, Margy, and Andrea.

A sixth generation Australian, Georgiou became an “honorary Greek”, as she calls herself, 42 years ago when she married Stephen.

Giving us a snapshot of her husband’s migration story, she describes how his family was expelled from Egypt along with other Egyptiotes, and years after his parents’ separation he came to Australia with his mother.

Georgiou recalls those years when discrimination was prevalent in the country against Greeks and other ethnic groups.

“At one stage my father didn’t want him [Stephen] on the property but I just disregarded that,” she says.

Greek culture has become a part of her life that she has grown to love, and admits it has inevitably had an influence on her work as an artist.

“I found it very important, because I come from an Anglo background and I didn’t find there was much culture that I belonged to. So I embraced it.”

‘Express Yourself’ opens at Steps Gallery (62 Lygon St, Carlton, VIC) on Sunday 9 September and runs until Wednesday 12 September.