For Canberra artist, Kirstie Rea, there’s no creative place like home

Glass artist, Kirstie Rea, wouldn’t live anywhere else.

Internationally-acclaimed glass artist, Kirstie Rea, has travelled the world to teach and exhibit her art for 3 decades. But it’s her home town that inspires her creatively.

“I love travelling,” Kirstie explains. “I’ve seen some amazing places. I have incredible friends across the art world. But I’m quite a homey person. If I never get on a plane again then I’ll be happy here, and I’ll have saved the planet that number of air miles.”

Travelling is not just about the places Kirstie goes to visit, but the distance and perspective travelling gives her on home. “With distance, I can see more clearly. Travelling gives me a chance to think about where I am and the differences from home, and what I love about Canberra and the region. I’ve learnt that I love spending time locally.”

Born in Canberra in 1955, Kirstie can remember a time when Woden was all sheep paddocks. Canberra has come a long way since then, but our local arts scene has retained its friendliness and approachability.

A tight-knit, arts scene in easy reach

In Canberra, you can see nationally-recognised artists in the big galleries, but also practising out there in the community. “We have a significant number of Australia’s national institutions and an incredible variety of exhibitions, but also a really good community arts scene. That’s a network supported by art forms across the board, and artists who work with all media. For established, emerging or student artists, it’s a perfect location.”

Kirstie began her studies at the Canberra School of Art in 1983. She has taught in Adelaide, Sydney and in cities overseas. But only Canberra gives artists and art-lovers such easy access to exhibitions.

“For emerging artists to have a practice here it’s just perfect. And for school-leavers, there’s an amazing arts school and scene here, particularly when you connect to the rest of our arts community.”

Bushland creativity

Kirstie takes time away from her Pialligo studio to refuel her creativity in the bush.

“The original planners decided not to develop our ridges and hills,” Kirstie explains. “Those places became bushland reserves. Wherever you live in Canberra in 10 minutes or less you can be in one of those reserves and feel like you’re in the bush.”

Kirstie Rea working in her Pialligo studio

“Being there, and having those times of solitude and aloneness lets the bush reveal itself in all its beauty. It’s those moments that really inspire me,” Kirstie says.

“My works are quite abstract, but it’s about how you’re enfolded into place and how place folds around you. When you pause, it allows you to do that. The way there is just as exciting and beautiful as the top of the mountain. I find awe in that bush around Canberra. Just a few minutes in nature drops blood pressure and anxiety.”

DESIGN Canberra’s designer-in-residence

Every November, the DESIGN Canberra festival promotes design and contemporary craft, expands audiences, forges marketplace connections and collaborations, and inspires artists, designers and art-lovers. It’s developed by a small, dedicated team from the Craft ACT: Craft and Design Centre.

Stretching across architecture, urban design, studio visits, workshops, exhibitions, design installations, visual and performing arts, a film festival, keynote talks and more, the festival attracts over 100,000 people. 

“I love the breadth of it,” Kirstie says. “You’ll never get to see everything but there’s always a line-up of events people can book in for.” Again, it’s the city’s ability to host an event like this accessibly that makes the difference.

The event is held across the city and across art forms. It brings those different areas together in a wholistic creative design arts world, and establishes firm links which can be ongoing for individuals and groups.

“The size of the city makes this possible in a really meaningful way,” Kirstie explains. “If it was being held in a bigger city, it would be much more dispersed. It would be difficult for people to get to things. Here it’s really possible to connect with all of it, easily.”

Canberra’s national institutions and city-wide arts scene is supported by smaller community arts groups. These are groups of artists and makers based in suburban areas, or in the regional places just beyond ACT’s borders. It’s what Kirstie loves about living here — that this city and these communities embrace the arts, and artists of all ages, from children through to older generations, hobbyists and professionals. “There’s a generosity in the Canberra arts community,” she says.

2020 DESIGN Canberra signature artwork, With care, created by glass artist Kirstie Rea. Timber fabrication: Zeljko Markov. Photo: Lean Timms.

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