The Caring Creator: Diana Markessinis’ amazing art objects

On November 19, 2014 by Evan Senn

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There are very few artists that can further the magic of something through their own creative processes. Meet Diana Markessinis, one of those very few. Her sculptures are simple but powerful, exploring the presence of nature in our often chaotic and sterile human existence. Markessinis specializes in trees—she welds and sculpts a range of different kinds of trees, just slightly abstracted, bringing attention to the materials and created life of these objects.

Trees inherently have a kind of magic all their own, standing tall above us, guarding our world, providing oxygen, food, shade and protection for us, and we give little in return. Markessinis’ trees are tall and sturdy, but give off a sense of sensitivity; perhaps it is the inherent nature of the metals she uses, showing their age and experience depending on their environments, perhaps it is the angles—the design—that the branches take. Resembling humans, the tree branches reach out to one another, some more so than others, some weaker and slouching or falling, some tall and stiff, refusing to falter.

Her creations seem to find the subtle nuances and parallels between the trees and us, while also calling attention to the lack of real trees in our everyday lives, lightly commenting on our busy, cement sanctuary of the city. This innovative, nature-loving artist is practically everywhere in Orange County, and her work can be seen in museums, galleries and gardens throughout Southern California. Rogue Arts has visited her studio numerous times, and finally got to pick her brain about her work and life.

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Can you tell me some basics about yourself—where you are from, where you live/work and your age?

Born and raised in Wilmington, Delaware. Currently I Live/work in Santa Ana, CA. I’m 34-years-young.

Who inspires you (people alive or dead)?

I’m inspired by people contributing to our planet, in all aspects of contribution; but overall, the folks that can roll up their sleeves and get shit done.

What places inspire you?

Inspiration can be hunted or delivered, so I choose to vary my roster of activities to accommodate the potential of inspiration anywhere.

Much of your work involves inventing your own nature through hard materials. What’s the significance of these for you?

I like the challenge of mimicking plants and trees with materials that have had a different purpose; the materials get a chance to exist under a new guise.

Where did that come from?

Initially, I was following an intuitive need to create a forest, I wanted it quickly and without environmental harm, so I used materials that were already being wasted. In doing this, I saw that my perception of waste was vastly different from others. We all can benefit from the reminder that things aren’t always as they appear; a stretch or distortion of our presumed perception can be healthy.

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Tell me about your process in starting a new piece. From conception to completion, what’s the method to the madness?

I draw, write, and research daily, constantly exploring ideas, concepts, and visions of pieces I want to build. Once I have decided on the piece, the investigation starts. My mind likes to analyze all of the steps to build a sculpture. This vital process, explores a project from all perspectives, forward and backward, macro to micro, layers of content and aesthetic into mechanical and practical. I want to know before I start, the feel of the piece, it’s purpose and style, as well as the general measurements, the materials and how they connect, stand, and be who they are meant to be. Searching for the right material can be a process in itself, so I collect materials bring them into the shop and begin to see how they may or may not work. Then the labor begins, preparing all the parts, cutting, measuring, grinding, and shaping the materials. Throughout the whole process it is imperative to stay open to the possibility of changing the design because the material talks back and the sculpture takes on a life of its own to which I adapt and collaborate.

You are also a yoga instructor. That’s a fascinating mix. What relationship does your yoga practice have to your art practice?

I am a teacher of both art and yoga. Teaching is a humble experience of which I am honored to do. The relationship between yoga and art has evolved over a fifteen-year period and I’m looking forward to how it will continue. Both practices are subjective and multifaceted so I hunt for the objective aspects, one of those being, mindfulness. It is a trip to practice being mindful in everything you do, of how you are using your body, your energy (physical & mental), your words, your actions, your ideas, and your time. And then the objective side comes in where quite simply, the physical practice of yoga helps me work through the physical demands of my art practice and that is how the relationship began. The body and mind connection is the tool I use most, so I must keep it well tuned.

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What’s your background in art?

As a Montessori School kid, my creativity was encouraged and supported from a young age. Ironically, I had no idea one could major in studio art, I knew art history was an option, but it took me a couple semesters of general studies and art history at West Virginia University to find the studios in the Creative Arts Center. I was excited by all the possibilities and explored all mediums, but once I got to sculpture, I was home. Upon finishing my undergraduate degree, I wasn’t ready to stop making objects so I continued onto California State University, Fullerton for a MFA in Sculpture. When I finished I still wasn’t ready to stop so I set up my own shop to continue making objects.

Do you come from a family of creatives?

Yes, on both sides, and in all aspects of creativity.

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How do you title a piece?

Painfully. I like humor in the title, but it’s tricky. I usually title by series, add some numbers, but ideally, I’m adding some perspective.

How do you find a home for them? The placement of the trees always seem so perfect.

Thank you! I suppose that is an organic process in a sense they find their own home, I take them on trips, let them see the sights, introduce them to new environments and sometimes they go home with somebody else!

You’ve recently done a few more installation types of artworks. What drives that motivation? Is there something in installation that you are feel you can’t accomplish in just sculpture on its own?

I like to do both, especially because we all respond differently. It seems that in creating a larger environment or installation there is more to see, feel, explore, interact, and experience, but sculpture can do that too, just differently. In an ideal world, the viewer has a feeling from interacting with the work, an actual gut response from either walking around the object, honing in on it, analyzing within its world, or the viewer walks into the piece, navigating throughout the environment. Either way, I hope the viewer has an experience, an encouraging push to pause, to reflect, maybe take a deep breath to shift them, even to tilt the head, furrow the brow, and remember there is always another way to look.

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What kind of elements are important to make a proper installation or atmosphere for you?

A clean, open space with architectural properties. Good lighting. Freedom to step into and out of the installation, allowing various perspectives. Good people to work with.

What’s the importance of the tree for you?

I’m still questioning that! Through my eyes, each tree has a personality, they look like humans in their posturing as they lean, bend, twist, and arc towards one another or away, they are in collaboration with each other for nutrients, space, and sun. The variety of trees fascinates me; even the exact same tree species can look very different from how their environment shapes them. Their expression of those environmental occurrences is like a beautifully honest time vessel.

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If you could install your trees anywhere in the world, where would it be, and what would the project/installation be like?

Places that lack trees, outside, placed where you wouldn’t expect to see them and when you did, questions would come to mind, those questions sparking observation of the space surrounding the cluster of metal trees standing 20 to 45 feet tall. I see a cluster of trees ranging in scale, riffing off each other and the surrounding environment, in a city, desert, along the road, or a busy town square.

What are you working on now? Do you have any upcoming shows/projects you’d like to share?

I’m challenging myself to work smaller while exploring new materials. I do have a large piece I’m working on to add to my current installation at the Los Angeles Arboretum in Arcadia. “The Nature of Sculpture” opens April 11, 2015, although you can visit my three metal trees there now along the spiny forest trail in the Madagascar garden.

dianamarkessinis.com

One Response to “The Caring Creator: Diana Markessinis’ amazing art objects”

  • joanna roche

    Wonderful artist and a great interview. Trees are such a worthy and vital subject of art, Diana takes our fast/freeway mentality back to these slow and beautiful wonders.

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