Heather Priest is humming like a machine. She sits at a table with a white linen cloth across it, right arm trembling, body shaking, her hand slightly clawed.

The walls of the Stirrup Gallery are full of her visions: paintings that seem to blend Edvard Munch dreamscapes, Franz Marc horses, female nudes, bird hieroglyphs, and plenty of hippie voodoo moving across the many canvasses.

She has so much work there are even more framed bundles leaning against white pillars that support the gallery ceiling. It’s a strange atmosphere: half-amateur and a little eerie, as well as what Heather likes to describe as “healing” for those who might respond to it.

Ten year ago, on the 23 December 2013, she went into hospital for a routine MRI scan. As her artist bio note puts it, “she came out a different person”. Heather had a rare allergic reaction the Gandolinium Contrast dye. It caused her all kinds of neurological issues, not least the trembling she now lives with. For a while it also killed her.

Heather is one of those rare individuals to have been through what gets called “a near death experience”. Prior to the MRI event she’d been employed in the catering department at a private school as well as doing casual bar work across the eastern suburbs. Nothing special or out of the ordinary.

Apart from suffering physical issues that made her old way of life impossible, she found herself turbo-charged with visions and an impulse to paint them. “It’s been a real strange journey,” she says. “But I am grateful. If it had not happened I would not understand as much as I do now. I’ve been given much more… much more information about different things.”

What was it like to be dead? “Well, I remember being on a surface, a white surface. There was a wooden stake and I had a leather strap around me holding me to it. My logic was still there. It was not  like I was dreaming. I felt the ground at my feet, it was not sandy or rocky. Everything was black and white. A black sky and white ground. And I was the only one there. It wasn’t frightening; I was more curious, lonely and curious. I remember wondering why there were no stars. I now think I came back from that other world to find the stars.”

“When I woke up at the hospital I started trembling and I’ve had it ever since. But it has made me very strong. I feel like I have a whole world inside of me in a good way. It’s ten years ago – almost to the day actually.”

Unsurprisingly, Heather can get quite cosmic. She reckons she can predict the future and read minds. “I believe I was given many gifts when I went where I went and came back again.”

She does not believe in time at all. “There is no linear experience,” she says, smiling and even faintly amused by her own conversation and how it sounds. “Time doesn’t exist in my world. I keep bouncing back and forth between the real world and parallel worlds. Things trigger me all the time. Music, my art, anything. I’m sure of things when I am in the real world, but when I am a bit outside of it, it’s very hard for me to comment on what is happening. It can be quite difficult sometimes.”

She laughs at herself. “I’m not insane. I’m quite normal. My story is pretty unbelievable, I know.”

One thing she is adamant about is her memory and way it works. “I can be back where I was before in life. And it’s like a film, like taking a picture of who was there, what they said, everything comes back to me. I also dream very consistently and I remember all my dreams. I get really tired with it. Sometimes I can look into people too.”

Heather reaches out with her arms, stretching her damaged hand, its middle finger bending back into her palm in a neural flex she can’t control. “Because of my hand I can’t paint in detail. Everything I paint has to be fast. But I go over the canvas tiill I get to it. I look at what I painted and say ‘nah’. There’s probably ten paintings under each one before I get to the images you can see. Sometimes I will paint for twelve hours without stopping. I have this feeling of artists on my shoulder telling me what to do… Picasso, or an artist from the 1700s, all kinds of people. It’s the universe at my shoulder.”

She laughs again. Comes back to earth. “I just call myself a freak of nature.”

Travelling, a Decade in Painting by Heather Priest
Stirrrup Gallery Hours:
Sat/Sun, 9/10 December: 11 AM – 4 PM