As the sun sets on the driest part of the country, a new light emerges from the red sand.
Beams of every colour dance across the desert floor and into the night sky for Parrtjima Festival, an Indigenous celebration of light and culture in the heart of Australia.
Renee de Saxe took her family on the 15-hour journey from Marananga to Alice Springs in April to explore this art event, finding inspirational art, culture and storytelling being celebrated by community and visitors.
“Being completely immersed in the art … really took my breath away. It’s inspiring what is possible,” Renee says.
“There are so many exciting things that we could be doing when it comes to arts in this region.”
The mother of two moved to the Barossa from regional New South Wales in 2016 and hasn’t shied away from finding ways to help build our community’s arts presence.
Her most recent artistic triumph was winning the Barossa Regional Gallery 2021 Vintage Festival Art Prize for her cyanotype piece, ‘Transference’.
On the bus ride to Parrtjima, Renee’s phone began buzzing with congratulatory messages, completely unaware that she had been the recipient of the prize.
Eventually, confirmation of the exciting news filtered to her.
“I’m shocked,” she laughs.
“Winning something like the Vintage Festival Art Prize is significant because it reinforces that you’re heading in the right direction.”
Renee would not describe herself as a full-time artist, but definitely a full time creative.
“I find creative industry sometimes robs me of artistic expression and self-awareness, I have realised for me it’s vital to make time for art that is not commercial or industrious.”
Beginning her own art practice as an emotional release after her eldest daughter was born, she understands the importance of nurturing creativity and finding ways of self-expression through artistic endeavour.
“Art gave me a balance that I desperately needed, it is really what got me through having young children, when I felt completely out of my depth,” she says.
“It’s sort of rejuvenating, providing a new perspective and release on whatever you are dealing with at the time.
“I think everybody is creative, and even though other things become priority, we really need to nurture that artistic endeavour in us all, for our own mental health and well-being and our community’s well-being.”
Renee struggled to find her way in art when she first moved to the region.
She calls it a ‘fluke’ ending up at Roland Weight’s art classes in Greenock six months after she arrived.
It was this class and the artists she met that led to a refocus and resurgence of the arts in the Barossa.
Although humble in her own work, Renee is excitable about the work of those around her and creating opportunities for them to shine.
Her network has grown and along with a group of friends and fellow artists, Renee has organised events like Wanderlust Greenock – the village that became a gallery, She Is Pop Up Gallery, Year 12 Combined Art Exhibition, 10 Barossa Digital Artists Projection Trail and 100 Barossa Artists as platforms for emerging creatives in the area.
Renee says these opportunities start as morning yarns between sips of coffee and within days turn into major community feats that attracted over 10,000 people in 2020 alone.
She describes this as “building the canvas so people can create”.
“What we’ve been trying to do is show that visual art holds a distinct space on its own, it stands on its own two feet,” she says.
“It felt like we needed to help build a foundation for people to feel comfortable to launch larger projects in the region and for business, government and investors to feel comfortable supporting that.”
Renee says these kinds of events are the perfect opportunity to push the limits of what people normally do in order to highlight amazing talent.
“Having met over 200 artists in the last 12 months, the breadth of artistic talent around is exciting,” Renee exclaims.
“I can’t walk down the street or go to the supermarket now without running into an artist.
“It’s important to appreciate that creativity is in everyone … it’s then vital to nurture it.
“Only then will we recognise the huge positive impact it can have on us as individuals and a society.”
As the sun rises 1,500 kilometres away from the red centre of Parrtjima, Renee is busy preparing to exhibit at Karrawatta Cellardoor for SALA 2021 and to hold her first major solo exhibition for SALA 2022 at Barossa Regional Gallery, which was part of her Vintage Festival Art Prize win.
Thanks to Renee and her peers, a new era emerges from our vines.
The arts have always run through the Barossa, but now they’re taking up the space they deserve.