One amazing trip to Greece was all it took for Diana Madaras to realize her true calling. Picking up the paintbrush and walking away from her professional career, Madaras opened a gallery and began painting her own masterpieces.
Madaras Gallery has been a staple in the Tucson community for now 20 years, growing on a tradition of both artwork and philanthropy.
Madaras once worked as a sports marketer, although she always felt art was a passion. She painted at night or during her free time, but decided not to pursue the craft until a life-changing trip to Greece with a professor from the University of Arizona. While there, she knew that her true calling was to create art.
Returning to the U.S., Madaras arrived back in Tucson and opened up her own art gallery in 1999. It’s been a life of painting and running the gallery ever since.
“It was euphoric for me,” Madaras said. “It definitely is where I am supposed to be and what I’m supposed to be doing on this planet.”
Madaras is known for very colorful pieces; the flora and fauna of the desert inspire most of her artwork. Painting in watercolor and acrylic, her pieces are bold and dramatic in both color and detail.
“I still get as excited at a blank canvas as I did 20 years ago,” Madaras said.
Her work has been featured in the Tucson Museum of Art, and she’s won numerous awards for her work. Madaras has won “Best Visual Artist” multiple, consecutive times in the Tucson Weekly’s “Best of Tucson.”
One of her most memorable art moments came when an offer came from Destination Southern Africa. The travel agency even offered to fly Madaras to Africa for a charity art event.
Beyond art, Madaras also includes philanthropy in her business. She said her charitable contributions have reached nearly $500,000 worth of art over the last 20 years. Her work has been auctioned to the benefit of organizations like the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, American Cancer Society, Arthritis Foundation and several animal causes.
Madaras also founded her own charity, “Art for Animals,” which funds aid for homeless, abused and injured animals. She raises money through various events at the gallery and through art sales. Money raised from this foundation is then donated to 12 animal causes in Southern Arizona.
A year-long celebration will take place at the gallery to celebrate its 20th anniversary. The festivities will showcase the work of Madaras as she continues to produce 20 original paintings called The Spirit Animals.
The Spirit Animals all share five things in common: They are all done on yupo paper; they each have a moon and star; are painted with a black background; are named after songs; and each has a tattoo. Madaras has finished a dozen Spirit Animal pieces done so far, and five new paintings will be presented at the March show.
Another collaboration for the 20th anniversary is a video project done by Madaras and local songwriter Amber Norgaard. Madaras paintings were chosen to illustrate Norgaard’s songs.
“[Art] is how I communicate with the world, it’s how I interpret the world,” Madaras said. “There’s a deep drive in me to create and to interpret what I see and feel, and I can do that through my art.”
A long-time art collector and now close friend of Madaras, Bonnie Allinder, has been coming back to Madaras Gallery for 15 years. First coming across Madaras’ art at the Tucson Airport, Allinder was drawn to the bold and colorful style of Madaras’ work.
“I realized one day when I was at the Desert Museum that she was sitting across from me with her mother,” Allinder said. “I just decided to reach out to her and just have a short chat and felt a connection with her and today we are very good friends.”
Madaras Gallery is a favorite of the community because of the warmth and generosity Madaras has, according to Allinder.
“She makes the gallery a place for friends to come.” Allinder said. “A guest can turn onto a friend very easily.”
Madaras Gallery (3035 N. Swan Road) will be celebrating its 20th anniversary throughout the year. A show premiering her collection of paintings Spirit Animals will be help on Sunday, March 10 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. RVSPs are requested.
Briannon Wilfong is a University of Arizona journalism student and Tucson Local Media intern.