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Grampians creatives Stacey Rees and Sara Bowers talk art, inspo and surviving COVID

Words by Della Vreeland
Images supplied

Stacey Rees doesn’t consider herself a long-term artist. While her interest in art and creativity stems back to childhood, it wasn’t until later in life that she really turned her hobby into a career.

‘I’ve only seriously been an artist since 2017,’ the Grampians artist says. ‘I decided to really push my capabilities further after I had kids. I actually set myself a goal by giving myself a year to ‘make it’ because I knew my creative talent was possibly the only thing I was okay at!’

Dedicating her spare time towards exploration and expansion, Stacey soon discovered that her attitude of ‘what have I got to lose?’ was well worth it. ‘I haven’t looked back since.’

Stacey’s contemporary work is quite feminine in its aesthetic – composed of striking colours and abstract portraits that immediately awe the observer. ‘I’m not painting anyone in particular,’ she says. ‘I’ll flip through magazines for inspiration, or I’ll see a colour I’m drawn to and really try to incorporate that into the piece.’

Exhibiting since 2002 – albeit in a non-professional capacity initially – she was a finalist in the Percival Portrait Prize in 2020. Stacey’s debut Sydney solo show was held at Saint Cloche Gallery 2021. Unfortunately, due to COVID, she wasn’t able to attend.

‘In 2020, I kind of thought ‘this is ok, I’m managing pretty well here’, and then came 2021,’ she says. ‘The effects (of COVID) have been interesting. I know that galleries have had to be more creative with reaching out to their audiences.’

I think the hardest thing for buyers is to not have that physical, ‘real life’ viewing experience of the work. This is what’s fundamentally had the biggest impact.

Juggling homeschooling and work, Stacey says she has had to scale back on her art this year, but hopes to get back in the swing of things when the world calms down. ‘Finding the focus has been the most challenging thing, as well as finding the time,’ she says. ‘I’ve decided it’s just not worth the stress as it really shows in my work. I’m waiting until school goes back, and then I can really knuckle down and get some pieces finished for some exhibitions I have coming up.’

Stacey’s experience throughout the pandemic is not an isolated occurrence. Artists all over are confronted with significant stresses and many struggle through financial losses and emotional tolls.

Grampians graphic designer and fine artist Sara Bowers says this year has been particularly difficult to navigate. She says while the first round of lockdowns attracted an increase in work, with more clients wanting to finesse their brands and work on increasing their online presence, the last six months have not been as kind. Her work was also scheduled to appear in this year’s Grampians Brushes Festival, which was then cancelled, and some of her workshops were not able to go ahead.

‘From a personal perspective, I obviously understand, but it has been frustrating to lose that work as a tutor and also the creative momentum. It is unfortunate for the attendees as well – it is just the kind of social creative outlet that we all really need right now. The last six months of lockdowns have really shaken small businesses,’ she says. ‘There is so much uncertainty and many are afraid to invest in design without the stability of income. There is certainly still work, but a bit less.’

Hailing from Seattle, Sara graduated in 2000 with a degree in both Graphic Design and Fine art. She says she wasn’t able to decide which avenue to pursue.

‘For the last twenty years, I have done both – some years have a heavier sway in design and other have had a stronger art presence, but the two always intermingle.’

Having exhibited all around Australia as well as overseas, she says her over the last couple of years, her work has transitioned from a focus on fine art towards her graphic design business – Studio 8 Design. But whether she’s forging a website or creating on a canvas, her work is similarly inspired.

‘I love digging really deep and getting into the true essence of the thing I am representing,’ Sara says. ‘Nature and the environment are huge influences in everything I do. I don’t think it is intentional so much as it happens organically. It is just part of who I am and has always been part of my artwork. My artistry is what makes me unique as a designer and there is a lot of crossover between the two.’

While Stacey and Sara try their utmost to navigate through the struggles of the pandemic, preparing themselves for when restrictions ease, there is one thing that spurs them throughout it all – the ability for art and design to bring solace to all.

Buyers have definitely been proactive when it comes to purchasing art during the pandemic. All those hours spent at home looking at empty walls has been surprisingly positive.

‘You can never have too much art. Whether you are new to the art world or an avid collector. Art just makes the world a better place. Go out there and buy some art that makes you happy and finds a special place in your home and heart.’

FIND OUT MORE: Stacey Rees, Studio 8 Design/Sara Bowers Art

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