Justine Martin – finding purpose through art.

When Justine Martin received a diagnosis of MS in 2011, her neurologist suggested she find a hobby when she was forced to stop work. Justine chose art, and was winning awards within a year. Since then she has created Juzt Art, won numerous more accolades and is now offering art classes, primarily for people with disabilities.

Justine Bennett

After hearing Justine’s story, it came as no surprise that she would approach art as more than a hobby, find success and then give back: “My goal is to contribute to society, which helped me at a time when I needed it.”

“Art has got me through, it’s my form of meditation and if I can share what I have learnt it gives me a sense of purpose.”

Justine grew up in northern NSW and was just nine years old when her mother was diagnosed with MS. Justine was her primary carer throughout her high school years.

Her teenage dream was to be a classical musician, and she composed her first symphony aged 15. After school Justine moved to Goulburn to study music, but deferred after 10 months to return to care for her mother while also working. She never returned to complete her studies.

Justine’s mother became confined to a wheelchair, and a caesarian for the birth of her son Zak meant she couldn’t care for her any more.  “I had to put her into an MS home in Sydney. That was the hardest thing to do. I felt that I had failed her.”

Justine then began selling perfume for a multi-level marketing company, where she learnt about goal setting and positivity. She sold $70,000 of perfume in a town of 6000 people.  “Everyone smelt great.”

After her mother’s passing in 1997, with two children – her youngest Ally just seven weeks old – Justine felt she needed to reclaim control of her life. She joined Weight Watchers, lost the weight and then became a WW leader increasing meeting numbers four-fold in her town.

“When I set a goal, I achieve that goddam goal and I loved helping people achieve their goals.”

Justine discovered exercise. She tried Tug-of-War and won medals at state and national competitions. She later started competitive weight lifting, and in 2007 Justine competed in NZ with her children.

Justine then continued her successful career managing teams at Tupperware, Snooze and Jenny Craig and stood for the WA Senate as a candidate for the Australian Sex Party, coming in 6th from 55. (She ran again in Corio in 2013, coming 5/10).

But a decade of experiencing her own episodes of vision disturbances, fatigue, nerve pain and cognitive difficulties eventually led to a diagnosis in 2011 of multiple sclerosis – just like her mother.

“My life changed in the blink of an eye.”

Justine developed serious anxiety and did not leave home. But determined not to succumb to her illness, she, and her partner at the time, moved from Perth to Geelong to be close to Justine’s family for support.

She had started painting in WA, and kept that going when she moved to Geelong.

Justine started classes at a Springdale Neighbourhood Centre and also at Geelong’s MS Australia’s Social Support Day Program each week.

“I had always wanted to learn to paint. So, I took up a brush and started.”

“I love loud colours, abstracts when I’m in the mood and simple drawings when relaxing.  I do my art on my good days. No pressure and no stress, which is great for my health and wellbeing.”

Justine also continued competitive Olympic Weightlifting for her wellbeing, which she believes helps with her balance, walking and mindset.

She has drawn on her positive mindset over the past six years, when facing further health challenges. In 2013 Justine was rushed to emergency with a racing heart and stabbing head pains. Since, she has had three heart surgeries, two for a racing heart and the third for premature ventricular contractions. Unfortunately, pericarditis resulted from the 3rd heart surgery.

Justine was challenged again with three cancer diagnosis. (melanoma, lymphoma and leukemia). Her treatment could have been compromised by the MS medications so chemotherapy was delayed. And now, despite an allergic reaction to the chemo and “a pretty bleak time”, Justine is celebrating full remission.

Justine is now offering classes in Pal Tiya Premium Sculpting and finger painting for adults. Her wellness art classes are designed for people on NDIS, adding her NDIS support is enabling her to offer the classes. She exhibits at the JUZT art Gallery at Cafe Zoo and from Thursday she will be exhibiting at Little Creatures.

Meanwhile, Justine has returned to weight training and intends to compete in power lifting. More power to her.

Story and photo: Deb Howcroft