Pick of the Week

Wild Art

Take a look outside your window at the desert plants, and you'll most likely see a lot of brown and green color schemes: green saguaros, green mesquite trees, brown desert earth. And until the end of the day, our wide-open sky is almost always blue.

Local artist Diana Madaras paints many desert scenes, but she doesn't limit herself to only a few colors. In her "Blues at Old Main" piece, the saguaros are blue; the sky is green; and prickly pear cactus leaves are blue and purple. Madaras has a way of bringing color to the desert.

Madaras' colorful style has earned her popularity in Tucson. Voted Best Visual Artist or as a runner-up in the last three Best of TucsonTM polls, Madaras has owned her own gallery on Broadway Boulevard since 1999. She opened a second location on Skyline Drive in 2003.

Madaras paints in both watercolor and acrylic and is known as a colorist. "I like to make up my own colors. ... A prickly pear cactus may be purple, red and blue. I'm interested in the mood of a painting as opposed to capturing the reality of the scene."

To catch the proper mood, Madaras says she has her camera with her a lot. She shoots photos, processes an 8-by-11-inch image and paints from that. Categories of her paintings include desert and Southwest scenes, animals, architecture, tropical scenes and flowers.

But Madaras doesn't claim to have a favorite. "I really like the variety. If I paint a desert scene, then I'm anxious to paint animals. For me, it's the variety and constant change that keeps me interested."

Madaras' career went through a major shift before she became an artist. After earning a master's degree from the UA in 1977, she opened a sports marketing company and promoted major sporting events in Tucson. After painting in high school and college, she did not paint for a 15 year period, until 1992. A trip to the Bahamas that year inspired her to start painting again. She sold her business in 1996, and for the next three years studied with well-known artists around the country.

Now seven years into gallery ownership, Madaras has established herself as a popular artist and successful businessperson. She says there are pluses and minuses about owning her own gallery.

"I definitely have more control over my career. But it's a balancing act to run a business and create an inventory. Time is always an issue. It helps that I had the business background. That was very beneficial."

On the artistic side, Madaras has one or two shows per year. Her latest, Wild Things, is now on display at the Skyline Drive gallery. The show includes desert and architecture scenes, but focuses on animal paintings. There are 25 new works in all.

The animals featured in Wild Things come from a variety of locations and span a range of types. "There are quite a few horses in the show. I have two horses of my own. ... There are longhorns, a mule, zebra, giraffe, mountain lion, Labrador puppy. ... I spent some time at the Tucson Wildlife Center and got up close to animals. It was very inspiring."

Madaras also spent time at the Reid Park Zoo and Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum photographing animals. "The Baron" is a horse she photographed at a parade in Colorado. And three paintings are the result of a trip to Wall, S.D., where she attended the "Artist Ride" event in August. Each year, rancher Grant Shearer opens his ranch during a long weekend and invites 50 artists to photograph animals and models decked out in Wild West and Native American gear. Madaras took 1,100 photos and says it was fantastic.

Inspired by her love of animals, Madaras created the Art for Animals Foundation in 1999.

"When I opened the gallery, I wanted to have a charitable element to it. I come from a family of veterinarians. My sister produces a television show (Homeless Tails, which promotes the adoption of abandoned pets). ... It was hard to pick one charity, so I decided to start my own foundation ... to raise money and support animal causes. ... We like to support animal abuse prevention and help abused animals. That is one of the main missions of the foundation." To date, the foundation has raised more than $50,000 for 12 animal charities in Southern Arizona.

Madaras also donates her work to charities and local organizations. She is currently working on pieces for the Boys and Girls Club, the Tucson Symphony Orchestra and Therapeutic Riding of Tucson. She is often asked to create art and is currently working on seven commissioned projects. A recent project was a commemorative poster for Tucson Community Food Bank's 30th Anniversary. Madaras' created "Fruits and Veggies" and will donate it to their raffle.

Wild Things is on display at Madaras Gallery, 3001 E. Skyline Drive, Suite 101, through Tuesday, Oct. 31. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday. The gallery will host afternoon teas with the artist from 3 to 6 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 5; 1 to 4 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 14; and 3 to 6 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 19. Call 623-4000 to RSVP. For more information, visit www.madaras.com.

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