Drawn to the City: Dr Patty Chehade, the gallery director

A medical start has enriched the artistic career of Dr Patty Chehade.

Dr Patty Chehade is a medical doctor who has a great passion for the visual arts. While maintaining her medical career Chehade also trained to be an artist at the Adelaide Central School of Art (ACSA). Inspired by the community spirit of the art school, Chehade went on to create a studio complex in Bowden, which developed into the Praxis Artspace where she is the gallery director running the galley’s program and studios with curator Gabrielle Lane.

Prior to university many students face a choice: the arts or science? Chehade had to make that choice. “From my high-school days I was a very capable art student but the sciences just took over and I dropped art because I didn’t think I could achieve a high enough grade to enter medicine.”

Following the science pathway allowed her to reach her goals to become a doctor and surgeon. Throughout the 1990s Chehade consulted at the Royal Adelaide Hospital (RAH), mostly as an emergency physician.

“Emergency medicine is always challenging and rewarding,” says Chehade. “As a very junior doctor I was doing a straightforward admission of a pregnant lass. She was being admitted to hospital because, as a diabetic, her sugar levels were going out of control. My examination picked up she actually had appendicitis!” This early experience taught her to be thorough and never cut corners. Since leaving emergency medicine at the RAH after having a family, Chehade continued in medical practice by assisting in urology and orthopaedic surgery. Today she still assists in eye surgery.

Chehade returned to her interest in the arts in 1999 when she began her studies at ACSA. At the time she was still heavily involved in medicine and started to consider just how to consolidate her background in science with a future in the visual arts. Influenced by the theories of Gaston Bachelard, a philosopher who wrote about reconciling his view of science with that of his imagination, Chehade found a way to link the two disciplines that inspired her.

“I am very interested in optical art and the visual effect on our retinas.”

In both medicine and art school she was enriched by her colleagues and their sense of community. “I made some lifelong friends. I found my people!” This inspired the creation of Praxis Artspace, which opened in 2015. “I set up Praxis Artspace initially to provide studio spaces for myself, alongside other artists and like-minded people.”

Praxis Artspace now functions as an artist-run initiative with a professional gallery space showing a diverse range of artistic practice. “Commercial galleries are focused on market sales, but often for the artist focusing on sales can stifle their creativity. What I want to offer artists is an opportunity to explore their ideas and create without the demand of market influence,” says Chehade.

The gallery’s location in Bowden connects Praxis to a growing web of creative spaces. “Initially a low socioeconomic area, there have always been artists living in or near Bowden. But due to the recent developments it has become increasingly popular to live in it too.”

Praxis Artspace is now part of a cultural precinct where artists’ voices can be heard. The successful development of the Praxis Artspace by Chehade shows that complex disciplines can be linked and that changes over the course of a career can add enrichment to a life.

Leo Greenfield is a freelance illustrator
leogreenfield.com

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