To paint her “truest self”

The 'Sojourner' - a temporary stay in oil and mixed media on canvas. Photo Chelsea Byrne
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Tahlia Stanton says she wants to "bridge the gap between fantasy and reality" in her art. Chelsea Byrne reports.

Tahlia Stanton’s studio expands across her entire household; every inch of every wall is covered by her work. She dreams of a property with a much larger studio space, imagining a barn that she could transform. Yet here she spends 40 hours a week, sitting on a desk chair by an easel with little room to move between resting canvases and palettes. She wears black laddered tights, no shoes and a navy dress from an op shop because she would rather spend money on paint than clothes.

At only 18-months-old Tahlia was already holding a pen correctly and drawing pictures. When she was eight she did her first painting; a phoenix. She is now 19 and already nationally acclaimed for her artwork, having won five Young Australian Artist awards and the work is in private collections throughout Australia and the United States. But what is it that makes her artwork so special?

Each piece merges the realistic with the fictitious; a real-life animal pictured in a mythical landscape. She is “bridging the gap between fantasy and reality”, providing her audience an escape from their everyday lives. “Everything is escapism,” she says. “Art, TV, mobiles. People want to escape and that is something to take advantage of.” Painting is Tahlia’s escape. She could easily spend a week without leaving the house or even showering.

Tahlia describes her process as “whimsical” and “unplanned”, doing whatever comes to mind: an abstract background, the animal in the foreground, then surrounded by other animal companions or objects in the background. Each piece can take between five and 35 hours to create, and weeks or even months to dry due to the layering of oils at the end of her painting process. She works in at least three spaces at the same time and explains, “You don’t want to just sit there and literally watch paint dry.”

A supportive family environment, is a key to Tahlia’s success, she says. “There are so many people in the world that don’t get to do what they want to do because their parents are insecure and would prefer them to do something else,” she sighs. “Be a doctor! Be a lawyer! But no, the kid wants to be an artist.” Tahlia’s parents never doubted her abilities, investing in art supplies to help kick-start her career. They then suggested sending her to Ballarat Clarendon College for her secondary education, a highly regarded private school in Ballarat, which she says was a big deal for a family that’s not well-off.

After an unsuccessful attempt at gaining a scholarship to Clarendon in 2012, Tahlia tried again in 2013 for the beginning of Year 8. She was offered a half scholarship which is quite rare, she says. This lifted a significant weight off her parents shoulders who had proposed home-schooling as the plan-B option.

Michelle Green, head of visual arts at Ballarat Clarendon College, had recommended Tahlia for the scholarship. “She presented herself as very passionate about the visual arts,” she says. “She was very able to express her ideas, what she wanted to do and where she wanted to go.” Despite never taking any of Tahlia’s classes, Michelle has closely followed her progress since recommending her for the scholarship. “Tahlia always knew the style she wanted to work on, and while it wasn’t always everybody’s cup of tea, there were still so many people who loved what she was doing,” she says.

Tahlia is now nine months out of high school and into her art business full-time. “I thought about going to university but decided it just wasn’t for me. Everyone there is so hoity-toity,” she laughs. “I really didn’t want to be one of those people. When someone wants to buy your work and support you then you let them in. Don’t be like ‘are you worthy to buy my work?’”. Despite her family’s support, they were disappointed at the prospect of Tahlia not going to university. “The entrepreneur industry just isn’t what everyone wants for their kids as it’s instable at first and very scary,” she says. Yet her business and painting skills have improved, and she is earning a decent income. “She’s not precious about selling her work,” says Michelle. “She’s has so much drive and is always thinking of different ways to get her artwork out there, that’s why she’s so successful.”

Tahlia is now recently engaged to fiancé Andrew and is also very grateful for his ongoing support. He is studying a double bachelors degree of law and commerce at Deakin University Geelong and bartends on weekends. “I didn’t even know she was an artist when we first started dating,” he says. “One day she dropped the Young Australians Artists Awards bomb in front of me and I was genuinely surprised. Now I can’t imagine her doing anything else.”

Tahlia is also running her own face-painting business, Spots and Whiskers, and after just three months works regular shifts at Zagames, Bunnings Warehouse and Woolworths. “It’s an awesome way to use my skills as a means of earning money on the side of my regular work,” she says. She has invested $1,000 in face paint which she acknowledges is an “ungodly amount to spend”, but thinks it’s worth it.

Tahlia face-painting butterflies at a local event. Photo Chelsea Byrne.

Tahlia’s passion for art and painting always takes priority, even over her relationship with Andrew – but he says he doesn’t mind. She is constantly learning more about her unique artistic style and target audience. She is whimsical, spontaneous and confident, but also strives to attract the eyes of her complete opposite: “the introverted”. She wants her viewers to experience the same enlightenment, freedom, passion, joy and love that she feels when she is creating.

Tahlia believes that through painting she has discovered her “truest self”, which she defines as understanding what you want out of life and actually executing it. “My truest self is being joyful, happy and content by painting and doing what I love most.”

“Life is too short to be sad and angry. I want to take my audience to a beautiful world.”