By Diana Madaras
I have always felt a deep connection to animals. As a child, I grew up with only one door separating our family’s two-bedroom apartment from my father’s veterinary hospital. I loved watching him care for the animals and spent every moment helping where I could, from filling pet prescriptions to working as his surgical nurse when I was in college. When people dropped off abandoned wild birds, squirrels, or rabbits, I fed them and provided the care they needed.
When my passion for painting led me to open Madaras Gallery (Tucson, AZ) in 1999, I also founded a nonprofit foundation called Art for Animals. Over the past two decades, the foundation has raised $200,000 to help injured or abused animals and wildlife.
In 2007, I had a casual meeting with Terry von Guilleaume, owner of Destination Southern Africa. When Terry learned about Art for Animals, he offered me a free safari to South Africa and Botswana, and I agreed to donate the proceeds from the paintings from the trip. I returned from the safari with once-in-a-lifetime memories and 4,000 photos.
For months I was consumed with painting the wild creatures of Africa, and it was a truly joyful experience. The resulting show, “ African Sojourn,” raised $80,000 for SanWild, a sanctuary dedicated to preserving wildlife and their habitat. The first piece I finished for the show was “King of Sandibe,” a painting that still remains my all-time favorite and represents a very emotional journey. It warmed my heart to help make an impact to preserve the beautiful African wildlife.
This year, as the gallery celebrates our 20th anniversary, I will unveil paintings in the “Spirit Animal” series — 20 in all by year’s end. A portion of the proceeds from these paintings will benefit Art for Animals. I had wanted to do a “Spirit Animal” series for a long time, and last year the bold, vibrant work of John Nieto, a guest artist at Madaras Gallery, finally provided the impetus.
Painting with Watercolor on Yupo
All of the “Spirit Animals” are painted with watercolor on Yupo paper. I am not a formula painter with a step-by-step routine that I follow every time. I never want my process to become rote or boring, so when I began experimenting with Yupo, I was very excited by the unpredictability. The very slick, non-absorbent paper does not allow the paint to soak in; rather it sits on the surface until dry. The wet paint colors flow together in random and unexpected ways. The process was liberating, and I loved the colorful patterns and textures created.
Looking forward, I hope to continue the gallery’s long-standing tradition of finding innovative ways to combine art and philanthropy. I believe that when you have a wonderful, fortunate life, it’s important to give back. Art has taken me on many great adventures. If I can help animals and people through art, there’s nothing better.
Visit madaras.com to learn more about this nonprofit and to view upcoming events