‘Thank You Health Care Heroes’ Mural
In late April 2020, a hand-painted wall mural emerged on the streets of Caulfield North, Melbourne, paying homage to healthcare workers and thanking them for their service during COVID-19.
Positioned within walking distance to Cabrini Hospital, this large-scale mural was created by artist Justine Millsom of Juzpop Creations, who reflects, ‘The key message behind this mural was firstly to acknowledge and thank the frontline workers for their work and sacrifices, and secondly to give the community something uplifting and of interest that addressed these strange times.’
Murals are at the core of Justine’s art business and making connections to the wider community through murals has been front and centre of her work for many years.
‘Mural work in the public eye is always a very special process to me because I’m making a piece of art for a community that will walk or drive by, maybe every day. I value the opportunity to connect with the wider community through my work.’
When COVID-19 lockdowns were introduced in Victoria in March 2020, however, Justine’s career as a mural artist was significantly impacted. ‘Like many other artists, COVID-19 threw a massive spanner in the works for our lives and business as we knew it’, she reflects, ‘2020 was going to be a big year for us painting international murals in places like the United States, but we were suddenly unable to travel and also unable to paint murals on non-construction sites.’
With restrictions making it impossible to paint on non-construction sites, Justine’s options to paint murals became extremely limited. Then an exciting call came from David Orlanski of DO Architects, who decided to commission the Thank You Healthcare Heroes mural on his construction site. Highly aware of the significant efforts that healthcare workers were making on the frontline, David wanted to focus the artwork on a positive message of community support. Justine jumped at the chance to work on such a powerful piece, and together with her business partner, Mark, and close friend Ella, set about creating this significant and poignant mural.
Justine’s mural work always begins with a conceptual framework. Her decision to incorporate butterflies into this piece was ‘to represent change through something as beautiful as a butterfly.’ The mural’s soft and earthy colour tones were inspired by the natural environment surrounding the mural, and the female character was loosely based on a photograph that she had taken. She reflects, ‘I believe that we’re all playing characters in a grand concert called life, although we all wore masks for coronavirus, I think we’re always wearing masks. The characters I paint are built off real people I’ve encountered. The female I painted for the healthcare workers mural is simply a woman of the earth saying thank you.’
Starting any new mural in a public space can be adrenaline-inducing. 'Art is so subjective so it can definitely be nerve wracking when lots of people are walking by as you paint', Justine reflects.Yet, as Justine began to paint the mural, she found the response of the community incredibly supportive and rewarding.
‘Nurses and family and friends of nurses would give honks of celebration as they drove past on their way to work, some would pull up in front of the mural and take photos and thank me. It was always a conversation starter with the local community walking by.'
'Most people would stop for a chat and local photographers came out to take photos too. It felt pretty special that so many people appreciated it.’
For Justine, painting the Thank You Health Care Heroes became a way to connect with her community, and in turn, she found that it created a space for community to come together and share their stories and experiences. This, she believes, is testament to the power of street art as a vehicle for community connection.
‘For dark times in general, I believe street art can be the light in someone’s day, a means to connect with another, a means to connect with our surroundings. I think the public need and deserve art in the urban setting more than ever right now.'
Justine continues, 'Life’s not meant to be lived in grayscale. The streets need colour and energy to uplift and rejuvenate its people, and I feel that is the most important and valuable thing I can offer as an artist.’
While COVID-19 certainly challenged and changed Justine as an artist, she holds onto the philosophy that artists can apply their creativity to anything and adapt to the challenges that they may be faced with. Even though not easy at first, Justine has ventured onto different paths through COVID-19 that have presented new opportunities and relationships. As an example, she found that commissions for canvases increased substantially as people had a lot more time to think about how to enliven and enjoy their living spaces.
‘Things will always chop and change when you least expect, so be keen and ready to adapt and stay creative, as you’ll always figure something out’, Justine reflects, ‘If COVID 19 has taught us anything, it’s that life is too short to not pursue your dreams! Listen to your heart and love and cherish the people around you.’
With the support of the Office for Suburban Development, photographs of this mural have been acquired into Museums Victoria’s State Collection for posterity. They will provide a lasting reminder not only of the important role of artists during the COVID-19 pandemic, but also the deep sacrifices and commitment of Victoria’s frontline healthcare workers.
This story was collected and written by Catherine Forge, with Catherine Watt, in collaboration with Justine Millsom and Mark Aidone of Juzpop Creations.