The Art of Diana Madaras

By Darley Newman

"Art for Animals" and Equine Inspirations

On a recent trip to Tucson, I was introduced to the art of Diana Madaras, a celebrated Southwestern artist. I was drawn to her unique style and colorful paintings of horses. Her story of taking a risk to pursue her passions and help animals in need is something that I wanted to share with our readers.

In a recent interview, Diana Madaras tells us what drives her to paint animals and help them through her charity “Art for Animals.”

Darley: In 1993, you took a great risk by selling your successful marketing company to pursue your passion for art. What was the impetus for this?
Diana: I was on vacation in the Bahamas and saw another artist’s work and was inspired to paint again. I hadn’t painted since college. This artist lived on a boat and painted scenes from the different ports where she stopped. I bought her watercolor note cards and studied them on the plane for hours. I started painting as soon as I returned to Tucson and a few months later, a professor at the University of Arizona noticed my work and convinced me to go on a month-long painting trip to Greece with his group. While painting in Greece, I felt like I’d stepped into a parallel universe and the whole world began to look different to me. I was so excited to paint every day, I could barely sleep. I’d close my eyes at night and see a kaleidoscope of colors, and paintings would just appear in my mind.
When I returned from that trip, the desire to paint was so strong that I knew I had to change my life and began plans to sell my marketing company. In 1996, three years after the trip to Greece, the sale of the company was consummated, and I became a full-time professional artist.

Darley: Has art always been a passion?
Diana: Actually, I’m surprised I am an artist today. I really liked drawing and painting but got no encouragement in high school and college so I thought I wasn’t very good. I’ve always had this strong desire to create and have written a lot, played the violin and guitar, tried acting lessons, etc., but never dreamed I’d become a professional artist. It’s such a great surprise!

Darley: What are some challenges that you face in painting horses?
Diana: Horse have complex physical forms. Front legs are anatomically different from back legs. Hooves are difficult to get exactly right. Heads are always longer than one would expect! They are moving subjects that won’t stand still for a plein air session and don’t necessarily want to cooperate during a photo session. They each have different personalities which is important to capture. When you get it all right in a painting, it’s so rewarding.

Darley: How do you find inspiration for your work?
Diana: I take my camera everywhere. For example, on Christmas Day, I went to a friend’s ranch for dinner. The moment I walked into her back yard, I saw an exquisite painting opportunity. Her horse, Angel, was standing at the gate with the afternoon sun backlighting her head and body. I didn’t even say hello to the guests before grabbing my camera to shoot photos. Inspiration is everywhere if you just are open to looking.

Darley: How does living in Tucson influence your art?
Diana: Tucson is still the wild west. I am very influenced by the western lifestyle and also by the drama of the intense sun light here. The contrast between light and shadow makes for great painting inspiration.

Darley: Horses are a major theme in your work. Why are horses so special to you?
Diana: In the first full sentence I ever spoke, I’m quite sure I asked my father for a horse. He is a veterinarian in New Jersey and we lived in an apartment attached to the veterinary hospital. I’d beg to go with him on farm calls just for the chance to touch the horses. When I was a teenager and started to hang out with the wrong crowd, my parents finally got me a horse to keep me out of trouble. It was one of the best days of my life. I still own two horses today. They are magnificent, highly evolved creatures and since birth, I’ve had some magical innate connection to them that continues today.

Darley: You recently traveled to South Dakota to participate in “The Artist Ride.” What is “The Artist Ride” and what brought it to your attention?
Diana: One of the artist/teachers that I studied with recommended me for the “Artist Ride.” It’s an invitation-only event in Wall, South Dakota for the purpose of gathering reference material for painting. The Shearer family invites artists to their ranch for four days to take photos of horses, longhorns, cowboys and Indians. I took 1100 photos during the trip and have done seven paintings so far from the reference material. There are still another 20 I’d like to do.

Darley: Your foundation, “Art for Animals” has generated over $50,000 for animal welfare. What is “Art for Animals” and what drove you to start it?
Diana: When I opened Madaras Gallery in 1999, I wanted the grand opening to benefit an animal charity. I couldn’t choose just one charity as I support many of them, so I opted to start this foundation and support all of them.  The mission of the foundation is to help animals that are hungry, homeless, ill or abused. I particularly like to support programs that prevent abuse or help abused animals. When our local organization needs funds for reward money to help arrest and convict abusers, we are always willing to participate financially.

Darley: You followed your dreams and have found great success. What is your advice for readers, who are thinking about making a life change to reach their dreams?
Diana: It’s never too late! Life is short. I have never regretted taking the leap for one moment. My art has brought me joy and adventure beyond all expectations.

Diana Madaras website and information on Art for Animals