The Compassionate Creator The artistic fortitude of Diana Markessinis

“Art offers the possibility of love between strangers,” famed California curator and innovator Walter Hopps once said. The point of creating artistic objects is filled with a silent purpose that is aimed directly at love. Artist Diana Markessinis has been in love with the practice of art-making since she was a child, and that compulsion has shaped her life into the exploratory, compassionate, adventurous and nature-loving force that it is today. By all accounts, she creates life through her work—often shaped like her own interpretation of trees and plants, Markessinis finds the fascinating science and artistry in nature the most inspiring, and you can feel that in every branch and in every root she crafts out of hard, cold metal.

Her works are a collaboration between humanity and nature, and are imbued with a profound respect and fascination with nature’s strongest warriors, trees. She fills urban environments with her sculptures, and evokes a kind of sensory experience that makes viewers see their respective environments a little more clearly, finding glimpses of love throughout. As the seasons change at this time of year, Markessinis can be found hiking through the uninhabited areas of the deserts and forests of her California homeland, and teaching how to create fantastical worlds out of nothing but metal and fire at local colleges near her. CULTURE had the opportunity to dig in deeper with this metal artist.

Were you artistic as a child?

Yes I was a creative kid. The mode of making has always been a magical place for me, so my interest in creating has consistently been fed by that wonderful space I occupy when I’m making art. My parents had me in Montessori school, so creativity was encouraged. Plus, I do have a lot of creativity in my family on both sides. There’s a team of females that never got their recognition.

Tell me about your art. How would you describe it? 

My work has inspiration from both the forms and emotions that a natural environment provide. The work can be simple or complex, technically and conceptually. As a welder I enjoy the challenge of making a rigid material seem more fluid and organic.

How did you come to embrace your current style?

My style has most likely been shaped by my surroundings; the lack of trees in Southern California maybe inspires me to make tall works that tower over us. The evolution has also been shaped by my access to machinery, I support myself, so my studio is constructed of machinery I have gathered.

What inspires you?

I’m inspired by natural form and how it plays with the man-made forms in our environments. I’m inspired by observing those external sources as well as the internal landscapes. Both positive and negative, I’m curious of how we as humans hurt or help our internal and external worlds.

What are your favorite mediums and why?

Steel is my favorite because it challenges me while it can also be forgiving.

Can you tell us about the recent project of Pulling the Forest Along the Road, and how that came to be?

This was inspired by an NEA Challenge America grant to partner regular needs artists with special needs artists. A friend Lisa Lo Russo was working at Hope Center for the Arts at the time, they had chosen Darren Peterson and needed an artist that worked in cardboard to meet with him; we hit it off. We spent a lot of time together over a year. It took us a few months to decide that we’d build a forest. Darren had built many cities in the past, so we somewhat merged that two. We worked together and separately once we were on track; he has a very decisive mind which was very refreshing. All the head-tilting eye-squinting considerations I make that can get pretty exhausting. We just created the trees in real time.

Do you have some upcoming shows, projects or pieces that you’re working on?  

Some of the trees traveled to Artists Republic Gallery, they have a large new space along the Anaheim Garden Walk, near Disneyland. I have a collaborative installation project with Yevgeniya Mikhailik in one of the mini gallery spaces there too.

How do feel about cannabis legalization—medical or recreational?

I’m not sure how I feel about legalization exactly yet, because we haven’t seen what it will do to the smaller farms; but, I think everybody should have access to it. I am opposed to large “mass-produced” cannabis.

Does cannabis help your art practice or life in any way?

It is my Advil.

Do you think your work is imbued with a kind of alternate reality of sorts? And, do you think cannabis would help or hinder viewing your work?

Whatever encourages and supports a more open creative mind, I support.

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