Micheline Lee and The Healing Party
Micheline Lee is a Melbourne-based artist and lawyer, who has exhibited her visual art works in Australia and overseas. She recently released her first novel, The Healing Party, through Black Inc; Micheline spoke to AAV about her literary debut, balancing her law and arts practices and how disability has influenced her artmaking.
Your first job was in law before you became a painter – what sparked your interest in painting, and how did the transition from lawyer to artist happen?
I’ve loved art for as long as I can remember. Although I chose to study law, I promised myself that I would also paint. So while I was in my second or third year working as a lawyer, I started studying Fine Arts part-time. Fortunately I’ve been able to work as both a lawyer and artist by alternating between the two, or by doing both part-time. It’s tricky juggling the two, particularly when I became a mother, but I’m very grateful that I have both because they satisfy different parts of myself, and also because earning a living solely as an artist is difficult.
Tell us a bit about your arts practice and what inspires you...
I mostly painted but also dabbled in printmaking and digital. My imagery has a narrative style, and is influenced by a sense of mortality, passion for the physical world, and a fascination and fear of the supernatural world. I had 10 solo exhibitions and 15 group exhibitions in Australia, Kuala Lumpur, Paris and Berlin.
The Healing Party is your first novel – did you write in other forms prior to this?
As a lawyer, I wrote reports on the human rights of women in prison, and on the need for equal opportunity law reform. As an artist, I sometimes used text in my pictures.
What prompted you to undertake writing The Healing Party?
The great thing about change is that it prompts you to take risks that you might not have taken. So when the progression in my disability meant that painting became too difficult, I decided to try writing. The subjects in The Healing Party were a continuation of those I explored in my art work, but in a different medium.
How did The Healing Party come to be published?
At the end of 2012, when I was deciding whether to write, I saw that there was a 2-day writing course being held by Helen Garner and Michael Gawenda at Melbourne Uni. It was the fact that Helen Garner was taking the course that made me want to do it. I had long admired Helen’s writing – the purity of her words, her power to show people in their full humanity, in all their lightness and darkness, and her courage to leave herself open. During the course, Helen showed me how to see, hear and experience your writing with authenticity, fearlessness and imagination. Michael Gawenda too enlarged my understanding of writing with his great insights and store of experience. They offered to read my writing, and when I had something to show them some months later, Helen recommended me to a publisher. Helen continued to offer me invaluable support, and has amazed me with her generosity.
Has disability influenced your arts practice? If so, how?
It has enhanced my arts practice in that it offers an opportunity to see life from an enriched point of view-for example it has given me an outsider perspective; it has also given me a heightened view of mortality. On the down side, living with a disability means that doing nearly everything takes more time, effort, money, planning and equipment.
What advice would you give another artist/writer/creator who is living with a disability or chronic condition?
Too often people think we create despite our disability, but I feel that the intensified feelings of joy, pain, and difference that we experience through our disability drives us to create.
What’s next for Micheline Lee?
At this stage, I hope to do some work in the area of human rights law or advocacy.
About The Healing Party
Estranged from her family, Natasha is making a life for herself in Darwin when her sister calls with bad news. Their mother is ill, and has only a few months to live. Confused and conflicted, Natasha returns to the home she fled many years before. But her father, an evangelical Christian, has not changed –he is still the domineering yet magnetic man she ran from, and her sisters and mother are still in his thrall.
One night her father makes an astonishing announcement: he has received a message from God that his wife is to be healed, and they must hold a party to celebrate. As Natasha and her sisters prepare for the big event – and the miracle – she struggles to reconcile her family’s faith with her sense that they are pretending. Is she a traitor or the only one who can see the truth? And what use is truth anyway, in the face of death?
Taut, funny and poignant, The Healing Party is an electrifying debut novel about faith and lies, the spirit and the flesh.
‘A wild family drama, shot through with a furious, pure and grieving love.’ —Helen Garner
‘The tenderness and exasperation with which the characters are drawn will ensure comparisons with Amy Tan … The Healing Party succeeds in the aim all novels share: it suggests new ways of seeing.’ —the Monthly
‘A gripping family drama concerning love, grief and the complexities of faith.’ —Canberra Weekly