Diana Ellinger started out her professional life as a graphic designer, working for years in Melbourne’s communications industry before relocating to Canberra with her husband. In a new city with some new inspiration, she decided to finesse her amateur art skills, and enrol in painting workshops at ANU’s Art School.
‘Since then my art practice has largely existed in the margins of my life,’ she explains. ‘The sneaky stolen moments when children are sleeping, or carefully slotted in around design jobs.’ She credits this extreme multitasking as the reason it’s taken her a little over a decade to properly find her voice! Upon returning from Mumbai with her young family in March of this year, and promptly moving into then-temporary accommodation at her mother-in-law’s house on the Bellarine Peninsula, Diana has experienced a burst of creative enthusiasm. With a new regimen of dedicated studio time (and built-in babysitting courtesy of Grandma!) she has created a series of colourful abstract paintings that exude a concoction of excitement, energy and nervousness.
Read our conversation with the artist below about finding her creative feet, and what to expect ahead of her All The Paintings exhibition at The Ko Creative Studio in Geelong in late September!
HI Diana! Can you tell me about the space in which you typically create?
In 2018 we moved to Mumbai. It’s often called Maximum City, because it’s a monster of a place, built on top of a reclaimed swamp with a population the size of Australia. It’s polluted and crowded and crazy. There’s fabulous wealth and desperate poverty all mingled together. Life never stops, the colours, smell and noise never stop. My work shifted dramatically as did my perspective – this is hard to avoid when your privilege is constantly slapping you in the face.
In March this year we left Mumbai for what we thought would be a month or two. Six months later we are still staying with my ever-supportive mother-in-law, on the Bellarine – another kind of paradise filled with blooming acacias, bleating lambs and purring frogs. I decided I needed to commit to our new surroundings, so I ordered paint and canvas and set up a studio in the shed, where I compete for space with the lawn mower, red back spiders and the resident rats.
Can you tell me a little about the process of actually creating your works? What materials do you use, and how long do they usually take?
I move from one painting to the next, either down on the floor or propped up against a wall. I have several on the go at a time, depending on what the space allows. I’m happy when I can visualise three or more painting moves in advance, so if the process stalls with one painting, I move to another and just keep going.
The body of work I’m showing at The Ko, from inception to hanging, took about five months. Works that require a long drying period, especially those with thick poured layers tend to take longest to make, perhaps a month maybe two. Others happen quickly, and some emerge stubbornly over a long period of layering and reinvention.
Do you have any key references or inspirations?
I’m moved by the abstract expressionist painters of the twentieth century, art legends like Mark Rothko and Helen Frankenthaler. I love the processes of artists who followed the minimalist movement, and put their bodies into their work. Artists like Eva Hesse and Fabienne Verdier, and contemporary figurative artists who explore material and colour, like Swedish painter Karin Mamma Andersson and Luc Tuymans.
I’m inspired by local painters like Miranda Skoczek, Dale Frank and Emma Beer. Argh, this list could go on forever, but I think one of the best things about being an artist is looking at other people’s art!
How has this period of isolation we’ve just been through affected your work?
I am so thankful that because of the support of my mother-in-law I still manage to pocket some daily painting time. Its scarcity has really elevated it to be something much more privileged and special and I think that vibe bears out in my paintings.
My surroundings always impact the tone and flavour of my paintings, so being here on the beautiful Bellarine has no doubt changed things, though my memories and experience of India will probably take a long time to fade.