Diana Roig: “A painting is never safe from being worked on as long as it is near me.”

Diana Roig’s exuberant attitude is evident in her vivid and expressive abstract works, which seem to writhe on the canvas and move with a life of their own. Molten landscapes in fleshy shades of Venetian Red ooze and drip in a recent body of work, while in another, blues, white and pink tones swirl to resemble a marbled liquid surface. Diana loves the ambiguity that abstraction provides and enjoys hearing what others see in her paintings.

Born in Argentina and based in Rotterdam, Diana allows her surrounds to seep into her work, influencing her choice of color and scale. Recently she’s begun focusing on this specifically, considering the notion of indigenous colors and pigment processing. We were fortunate enough to catch up with this abstract painter to ask her a few questions about her practice before she heads off on a residency in the jungle in Peru. Enjoy!

AMM: Hi Diana! I love the title you’ve given yourself: “paintstar”. Do you have a motto or philosophy that you work by?

DR: Hi! Haha, thanks! “paintstar” sounds a bit more glamorous then “painting goblin” don’t you think? It’s probably a good example of my playful nature and tendency of not presenting myself too seriously. Motto: have fun, life is short.

AMM: Please can you share a few of the highs and lows that have shaped your artistic journey thus far.

DR: Well the lows always come from a place of negativity. Dealing with rejection can provide a good blow to your confidence. Some years ago, one rejection letter claimed my work wasn’t autochthonic and outspoken enough. I remember feeling a bit hurt and misunderstood. If anything, it’s definitely autochthonic, I thought. You have no choice but to keep on going really. But this voice inside your head is telling you; maybe you are not good enough. It’s strange how we tend to long for this recognition. It’s like downplaying all the positive things people say, and putting a lot of weight and meaning into the negative comments. I am very happy to honestly say I have torn most of those demons apart and put myself through some spiritual healing. It has truly changed my life. The first “high” came almost a month after this rejection letter, when I received a Christmas card from (a lesser known) Michael Jackson and his wife Marci (an opera singer!), who bought a painting of mine through Saatchi Art. They seemed to be completely in love with it, and wrote about the good energy it brought to their house. It truly made me happy to know I produced something that made someone else feel so good. I still have the card, which is not so strange because I am quite the hoarder. And I still need to write them back… which is also not so strange because I can also be a bit of a procrastinator.

AMM: Do you have any daily rituals to get your creative juices flowing? What does a day in studio typically look like for you?

DR: I wake up to my cat wanting me to feed him. I used to have trouble waking up early, but these days, that is getting much better. Though I can still hardly function before noon.

I eat some soya based yoghurt and watch things like “RuPaul’s Drag Race Untucked” before I hit the shower. I know that once I arrive at the studio, it will be hard for me to leave and I have taken up the habit of bringing food so I can eat dinner in between painting. Spend all day in the studio, get back home at night, feed the cat and the day can start again.

And I am very aware that this makes me sound more like a “painting goblin” than a “paintstar.”

AMM: Are you influenced by the physical space you work in? What does your studio look and feel like?

DR: My studio is beginning to look and feel more and more like my house… messy and paint everywhere. Before I had my current studio I was without one for about three years and my house was my studio. I have a pretty big wall in my living room so it was no problem to work on big paintings but it got to an unhealthy situation. There were days where I didn’t leave the house, woke up late in the afternoon, started painting at the end of the day until late in the night sometimes early in the morning. Not to mention that there was no line between being at home and at work. I was living with the paintings, adding layers and layers for months. The physical space and energies do influence my work a lot. Sometimes it manifests itself in subconsciously using colors I experience in my environment. Other times it comes in the way I use mark makings and create the shapes.

AMM: You publish fabulous time-lapses of yourself painting. How long are these videos filmed over? What’s your full creative process and how do you know when a work is complete?

DR: Thank you for looking at those! In the early ones you can see the wall in my house and catch a glimpse of how I used to live in and around my paintings. It started with the desire to capture the process. Also, I had this great idea to make a high tech and maybe interactive animation with the material, but my low-fi campiness did not have the accuracy to even keep the camera still, let alone work out the lighting haha. So that “great idea” is resting and waiting for the right moment, sometime in the future. I work on the time-lapse paintings for about 4 months and they go through a lot of changes in that period of time. I like to see them as “living organisms” of shapes and colors that grow into each other. A bit like an underwater scene. There is an amazing time-lapse on one of David Attenborough’s “PLANET EARTH” series of coral that try to win territory. The coral moves around, creates shapes and you can see the colors changing; it’s truly amazing. Knowing when a work is finished is a whole other story. A painting is never safe from being worked on as long as it is near me. I can easily spot a place on a painting where I would like to add something more to it. It has been a lesson in self-control and keeping impulses restrained. Sometimes I can keep myself away from it by putting a painting out of sight and other times I can’t help myself and I just let it happen.

AMM: Your recent paintings are really large. Have you always worked on large canvases? In what way does scale influence your gestures and mark-making?

DR: When I was in my fourth year of the Willem de Kooning Academie in Rotterdam I used the gigantic wall of the school studio as my canvas. It was a continuous work where black painted lines created shapes. I would then destruct and construct repeatedly over a period of a year. After that I went to Buenos Aires for three months and I found myself in this tiny apartment with high ceilings. I went out and got long pieces of canvas that I nailed to the wall of the place. I’ve continued to work that way since then. I enjoy large canvasses nailed to the wall because it imitates being the wall. There are no borders of a stretched canvas and I suppose that give me a sense of freedom and endless possibilities. Borders aren’t good for anything anyways. Mark-making and gestures depend mostly on the brush I use. I had not taken up bigger brushes until recently. It changed a lot of the gestures and definitely sped up the pace of the process simply by being able to cover more space with one gesture.

Lately I started making some small sized paintings on ‘ready stretched’ canvasses to challenge myself to master the material but the process of it drives me insane. I don’t particularly enjoy it. If one day I could work in a warehouse-sized studio, I would die a happy person. Leaving behind warehouse-sized paintings. #Amen. #Goals.

AMM: What materials do you use in your work and why?

DR: I use oil paints because I like the paint to be translucent. I like the smell and how slow it dries. It takes its time and does everything right, like Salt-N-Pepa would say. The only problem is that it’s such poison for the planet, so I’m working on a more ecological solution.

AMM: Can you please tell us a little about your attitude towards color and how this translates in your work?

DR: I pick my colors instinctively though it always reveals something about the circumstances it has been made in because I subconsciously use colors that seem to correspond with my environment. I made one painting after diving in Iceland between the Earth Plates of the North American and Euro Asian continents. The transparent blue of the clear water and volcanic surroundings translated into this blue painting. Last year after coming back from Argentina, where I was born, I was obsessed with the color ‘Venetian Red’. It was the first time I made a whole series of works based on the same color. The visit sparked the desire to be able to distract pigments from nature. That way I could make a painting based on the pigments taken from the place I get inspired from. I got a grant from the CBK Rotterdam to do a residency in Peru this September. I am looking forward to getting to the jungle and learning this native technique. I think there is a lot to learn if we take it back to the origins and live more consciously.

AMM: What appeals to you about working abstractly?

DR: What I like most is that it isn’t a set image. It can be something complete different to someone else. With my paintings it’s usually the case that people are searching for things they recognize. It’s really fun for me to hear what people see in certain parts of my paintings. Like an over-achieving Rorschach test, it tells a lot about the spectator. It works particularly well with children and imaginative people.

AMM: You’ve been on a few residencies recently. How do these experiences influence you and your work?

DR: Everyone should go on a trip, get out into the world and out of one’s comfort zone from time to time. As an immigrant in The Netherlands, travelling is in my nature. But painting in a different environment is essential for development, I think. Every time I paint away from home, it adds something new to my painting and feeds into the transformative nature of my works.

AMM: What’s next for you?

DR: I will be showing my work for the first time in New York City during The Other Art Fair at the Brooklyn Expo Centre June 1 – 4. I’m super excited for that one. I have been dreaming since I was a little girl of showing my work in New York. I hope for one strong lady running a successful gallery to hit me up, so I can continue to show there and slowly work myself towards that warehouse-sized studio. After New York I’m taking a week off to go diving and when I come back to The Netherlands I’m starting the pigments project. I turn 35 in July and in August I’m off to Peru. After that, who knows? I like my life to hold surprises and I’m happy to go wherever the flow takes me.

Find out more about Diana Roig via her website: http://www.dianaroig.com/

Text written and interview conducted by Layla Leiman for ArtMaze Mag.