Calling from Adelaide, South Australia, Sarina Diakos is privy to some of the most unique landscapes, equal in severity as they are beauty. The locale informs Sarina’s paintings, both in colour and composition, though some of Adelaide’s harsher features are made supple in the work’s portrayal.
Our arts writer Kate Bettes caught up with Sarina to see what she’s been up to recently...
Can you tell me about your relationship with art? When did you start practising?
I actually have been painting all my life. From my earliest memories my parents kept all my artwork and they were really really encouraging and sent me to art school when I was about eleven, at the local church. Run by a lady who I think was an artist…she looked like an artist to me. At school we’d be learning to draw between the lines…it’s amazing I can remember back this far and it must have been profound. I remember sitting on the floor of this old church with musty old floorboards and he gave us a piece of paper and some paint and she made us just sort of scribble. I did a vase of flowers and it was so expressionistic. I can still see the colours in my mind – very monochromatic. It opened me to the whole concept about being free with art. It opened something up in me. I loved those classes; it was all about being messy and spontaneous. At regular school it was more like, why would you paint the sun blue? The sun’s not blue!
Did you grow up in a creative household?
I know my mum could draw and my dad was artistic. His photo albums were all decorated with drawings. That painting I took home that day, he really made a big fuss over it and he framed it and put it up. That sort of encouragement is what I got growing up, so I identified as an artistic person. My teacher used to make such a fuss of me that the other kids would tease me, so I’d self-consciously scale down my work so that it was comparable to the other kids in the class. I’ve never wanted to stand out.
Have you always identified as a practising artist?
Well when I got married, I kind of stopped doing art and I channelled it into cooking. I used to make these birthday cakes – you know Women’s Weekly. That was a really good time in my life, I really enjoyed doing that. Then I went to art school. I hate cooking now! Now that I’m painting I don’t want to know about it! A cake is temporary; it’s eaten and its gone. With a painting you’ve got something tangible that is an extension of you that will keep living.
Do your works strongly continue this theme of expressive life and movement? In one, you seem to have a bird coming out of the colours.
I actually picked that up myself and I tried to alter it so it didn’t look like a bird. But the more I altered it the more it took on birdlike qualities.
Do you aim to make more abstract shapes? Or put another way, do you avoid making shapes tangible?
I’ve never really thought about it. I’m a big figurative artist right throughout art school. I love the human body and fashion and colour. But, I’ve been an oil painter all my life and the fumes were starting to affect me. So I’ve witched to water based oils, and they are so different to traditional oils. So, I decided to try acrylics. And because they’re so different I decided to do abstract whilst I got used to them. So that’s how I started off what I do now. However, I am thinking of going back to the figure soon. When you apply acrylic they darken and change colour so I’m having to constantly alter the colours the next day. Whereas, with oils, what you see I what you get. I really miss my oils!
If you went back to figures, what medium would you be using?
I might have to find a compromise there, as I know how to do figures in oil but not acrylic. I’m fine doing abstracts now. I want to do both. I mean Gerhard Richter does it so why can’t I? He does these beautiful tonal realist renditions of the figure and then he’ll switch in an instant to abstract. He’ll get paint and a big rubber apparatus and he drags it across.
So Richter is a very big influence on you?
Yes, for quite a while. I think he justifies my anxiety over not really sticking with one thing. And then his abstracts are just sublime.
Do you think you should stick with one thing?
Well that’s what I was taught in art school. I get bored of doing things over and over. I think I’d go crazy if I stuck in one genre. I need to do something completely new and then maybe go back to it. I don’t have much painting archaeology.
You have mentioned before that you think there is a tension in your self-expression.
Yes, there’s the side you present socially and then there’s the side you don’t want to admit. My work expresses myself. Coming back to Richter, when I discovered him I realised it’s okay to do that. He’s huge and recognised, so maybe I’m okay to do that.
How do you make one of your abstract works – what is the process?
I don’t have any preconceived ideas at all. But, I kind of have an idea of what the colours are going to be. First of all, I cover the whole canvas because I don’t like white. So, whatever colours I lay on – say a yellow shape – I put yellow, green, black – everything. If I’ve got a yellow shape I know what colours look good. With yellow I know blue looks good with the yellow showing through. Flecks of green. In my mind I know what colours work.
I like to have texture and I like to have variations, I don’t want everything flat. I scratch. I scratch them down sometimes until there’s shreds on the canvas. It’s like juggling between variations in depth, colour and shape. I’ll put on two colours and they might look awful together. Sometimes, if they’re still wet, I’ll spray them off with water. Half the colour will dissolve and create interesting things as well. If it’s dry, I’ll scratch it off.
Would you say this is a cathartic experience?
Sometimes magic happens and by the afternoon you have lots of paintings. However, this happens very rarely. Sometimes when I’m painting I think, I hate this! But you can’t stop – you’re compelled to go on. You know when you’re finished its going to be so good. The feeling of happiness at the end makes it all worth it. That’s the most wonderful thing. Everyone receives a gift of something they’re good at. If you’re denying that gift that’s a waste. It’s just finding that gift and accepting it and doing it.
Conceptually, do you feel your works have a theme?
That’s the other thing about art school. It’s drilled into you that you have to explain your work. But then sometimes I don’t know what I’m doing in my work. But at the end of it, you might find a subconscious thing that is informing everything you do that can be drawn out of yourself. I could write about what I’m doing in my studio, but I’m tired of doing that. I want to just enjoy it.
So your works don’t necessarily have a tangible conceptual basis?
Well I feel like I’ve sort of done that? At art school it was all about women’s studies, whenever I had a critique. The figurative stuff on the site often they have half their face missing and they’re disappearing. I dragged the paint. They’re not really solid. It’s subjectification. They aren’t looking. I know men get attacked by men, but for women it’s so engrained in us that we can’t go on a walk at two o’clock in the morning because you know you’re going to become prey to something. It’s the no things that become so naturalised in us that we don’t notice it. The state of always having to look over our shoulder. You walk to the car and hold your keys in a certain way. The obligation is on us. What about educating men not to attack women? But, if I get too involved in that the world becomes a very dark place. I felt like I had a message to convey, and I wanted to convey that message. Speak my part. I feel like at the moment I’ve got that out of my system.
So what does drive your art making practice?
It’s a very emotional thing and the colours are what makes me feel good at the moment. I can paint dark colours but I don’t want to. I want to see beauty, beautiful colours. It definitely relates to my psyche. Whatever’s happening in there is what is on the canvas. Perhaps later I’ll be fixated on something else. Like a magpie!
Are you working on anything specific at the moment?
Well I’m doing work for Art Pharmacy! I’ve also got some clients who buy my work so I’m working on that. Lots of little projects!
You can see all of Sarina's works for sale here.