Diana Tam

An ocean of flow­ers Story by Pa­tri­cia Gil. Photos by Graham Crumb.

Island Life - - Contents -

An ocean of flow­ers.

Walk­ing into Diana’s gallery is, with­out doubt, spe­cial. The short paved walk­way through the gar­den that leads to it acts as a preview of what you will find in­side; a lush, colour­ful, calm and del­i­cate space. Diana ex­presses her cre­ativ­ity in many dif­fer­ent forms and her gallery show­cases them all. Filled with light and colour, the gallery is a trea­sure trove of ‘ev­ery­thing lovely’. It is of course, all too much for the eyes to take in at first sight. Luck­ily Diana is there, ready to point you to­wards her trea­sures and lead your eyes on their jour­ney through this cre­ative uni­verse. Jew­ellery pieces of all shapes, forms and ma­te­ri­als, from del­i­cate and el­e­gant to more chunky and tribal, sit in their ded­i­cated dis­play shelves. Diana likes to con­vey the sto­ries be­hind them; the raw ma­te­ri­als she used, the name and ori­gin of their stones and the ‘feel­ing’ that she aimed to recre­ate when de­sign­ing a cer­tain piece. Rang­ing from the ex­pen­sive to the very af­ford­able, all her pieces are unique and hand made. “My jew­ellery col­lec­tion aims to suit ev­ery taste and oc­ca­sion. My latest pas­sion how­ever is with south sea pearls and my new line is all about mak­ing beau­ti­ful pieces with a fo­cus on high qual­ity. I only use high qual­ity pearls, gold, sil­ver and pre­cious stones,” she ex­plains. Her south sea pearl col­lec­tion has a ro­man­tic feel, evoca­tive of times gone by, of el­e­gant women dressed in silk and cock­tail par­ties by the sea in a grand ‘Great Gatsby’ style. Diana is also well-known for her hand- painted fab­ric work, another facet of this multi-tal­ented woman. T-tow­els, cock­tail nap­kins, table­cloths and pil­low­cases, hand painted with colour­ful flow­ers and trop­i­cal mo­tifs, take cen­tre stage on the big ta­ble at the cen­tre of her gallery. This, she says, she does in the morn­ings, when she is not work­ing on a paint­ing. At night time, she fo­cuses on her jew­ellery ‘to set­tle the mind’ and in the af­ter­noons, she hosts visi­tors to her gallery, al­ways happy to ex­plain the ori­gins of her cre­ations. But Diana is, fore­most, a pain­ter and her favourite medium is oil on can­vas. Her love af­fair with paint­ing started at a very young age and has re­mained through­out her life. Born in Hong Kong, the daugh­ter of a Chi­nese fa­ther and Aus­tralian mother, at the age of eight Diana was

sent to at­tend school and live with her grand­mother in Aus­tralia. “Be­cause I was a child liv­ing with an older per­son, I spent much time on my own. I was a soli­tary child and used to draw a lot.” At 17, Diana started tak­ing art classes at the Queens­land Art So­ci­ety un­der artist David Fowler. She re­mained with her grand­mother un­til the age of 19 when she ap­plied to be­come an air host­ess with Ansett in Aus­tralia. “The job re­quired than I moved to Mel­bourne. I worked as an airhost­ess un­til I was 22 when I mar­ried. In those days, once you were mar­ried, you were not al­lowed to work any­more.” A few years later, she be­came a mother. “I had my twins and for the next sev­eral years, I was a mum at home. But, moth­er­hood or mar­riage did not stop me from be­ing cre­ative and I con­tin­ued to work from home. I used to paint on cloth and sell to re­tail shops. It was through this that I met lin­gerie de­signer Anne Lewin and even­tu­ally went to Amer­ica with her to sell and pro­mote her range. A few years later, I be­came the im­porter and whole­saler for Kanga and May­eeLok la­bels in Aus­tralia. I used to sell these la­bels to Trudy Pohl, who had cloth­ing shops in Ade­laide and Port Vila and we be­came friends.”

Life takes a few turns and, at the age of 38, Diana sep­a­rated from her hus­band. A cou­ple of years went by be­fore the lucky event that was to de­ter­mine Diana’s fu­ture life. “Trudy sug­gested that I come over to Van­u­atu to take part in a beauty and health seminar at Iririki. Van­u­atu sounded lovely so I thought, why not?” This was the first time that Diana set foot in Van­u­atu and as des­tiny would have it, when she would meet her hus­band to be, Lind­sey Bar­rett, whose of­fice was lo­cated up­stairs from Trudy’s shop. A year later, Diana and Lind­sey were en­gaged and she moved to Van­u­atu. That was 25 years ago and Diana has never looked back. D iana’s lovely gallery and stu­dio at her cur­rent lo­ca­tion was opened in 2004. Its walls are fes­tooned with her paint­ings, mostly oil on can­vas. From small to large can­vases, her favourite sub­ject mat­ters are flow­ers, un­der­wa­ter life, the sea and still life. Art critic Chris­tine Dauber has said of Diana that ‘her artis­tic lan­guage is gov­erned by the pas­sion­ate use of vi­brant colours to pro­duce im­ages of op­ti­cal splen­dour’ and Diana’s land­scapes cap­ture the life and colours of Van­u­atu with bright blues, greens, reds

Diana Tam Gallery is lo­cated off Pango road. Open­ing hours are from Mon­day to Fri­day 1.30-5.00pm and Satur­day 2-4pm. For pri­vate show­ings out of hours con­tact Diana on + 678 23038. www.di­anatam.info, di­anatam@par­adise.com.vu.

and vi­brant light. “I am inspired by my sur­round­ings, I paint what I see. I also love paint­ing flow­ers and the artist Ge­or­gia O’keefe is a great in­spi­ra­tion in my flower paint­ings,” ex­plains Diana. In Aus­tralia, her work is on dis­play at In­ter­na­tional In­te­ri­ors and Stu­dio 110 gallery where her large can­vases hang, fetch­ing much higher prices than in her adopted home coun­try of Van­u­atu. It is there that the princess of Dubai col­lected sev­eral pieces at one of her show­ings and that her most ex­pen­sive paint­ing went for AU$8,500. “That is where all my big can­vas go, to these gal­leries. I love paint­ing large can­vas; if it was up to me, I would only work on large can­vas,” says Diana. Another one of Diana’s favourite sub­jects is still life. Win­dows fig­ure promi­nently as the cen­tral fea­ture in her paint­ings and she thinks that this may be some­how a re­flec­tion of her child­hood; the in­tro­vert child, look­ing out into the world. T hrough the decades, Diana’s work has evolved to re­flect her ma­tu­rity as a woman and as an artist. A defin­ing mo­ment for her as an artist was when she at­tended a three-month work­shop at the Florence Academy of Arts. “I am mostly self-taught and I tended to ques­tion my tech­nique and di­rec­tion. The three months in Florence helped me clar­ify my di­rec­tion and per­sonal style and added to my con­fi­dence as an artist to keep evolv­ing. I am look­ing for­ward to my jour­ney as an artist and cu­ri­ous about where my cre­ative pro­gres­sion will take me in the next 20 years!” Filled with colour and light, Diana’s gallery re­flects the cel­e­bra­tory spirit of life so in­her­ent in the Pa­cific. It is the end­less sum­mer, a time of plenty.

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