Diana Vouba - Seeker of Beauty

Elena Zavodskaya / journalist
Many of Sukhumi artists live and work outside Abkhazia. The renowned Abkhazian artist Diana Vouba now lives and works in Moscow, while preserving strong relations with the Native land, which she often visits. Her works are modern, filled with her individual flair about them, it's not possible to describe them, but we can tell you about their author.
Paintings like birds
Late September evening we are sitting in the house filled with a roar of thunder and lightning surges; bed, table and two stools - that's all that surrounds us as of the furniture. The candle-end is burning out on the table, accompanied by the cups of coffee brewed for us by Diana Vouba's son Alan, while the wind pulls the loose-fitting door.

Diana creates beautiful paintings that hold her national consideration and some sort of crystal clarity of colors veiled by incredible warmth and tenderness. I have a belief that it is not my subjective opinion, but some reality that occurs in the world.

With a light touch of the finger pushing the invisible button of the digital device Diana flips through photos on the screen in front of me in tune with the thunderstorm and lighting glimpses, and the screen shows pretty thin faces and figures of people appearing and disappearing, their eyes stare, into the soul, it seems like overly straight, and find response in there; flowers' portraits are sophisticated and detached, they keep their distance and make it clear that familiarity here is not appropriate, it is certainly possible to express the admiration, and they will accept it graciously. Landscapes, fragments of cities and abstraction - all this exquisitely touching splendor exists somewhere far beyond our city and our country. Every work bears its own shade of tenderness, its share of delights and the depth of sincerity and Diana's ability to gaze from the depths of the canvas both with sadness and tenderness.

The imagination already paints her Sukhumi home as a lived-in and filled with paintings that like birds shall quietly take seats on its walls, and shall no longer wander the world. The house shall live its live, irises, roses and gladioli shall stray off the canvas and fill the garden with their aroma. Each artist saves the world with his or her own beauty - Diana found hers, she has something she can offer the others.

The Road to Oneself
Diana was born in the mining town of Tkuarchal, she was three years old when the family moved to Ochamchira. She acquired the first painting experience independently at the age of 6 - when the windows were painted in the house, she mixed oil paint and watercolor and painted her first works. At the age of 10 she bought a lottery ticket for 30 kopecks, the prize for which was the piano. Music captivated her so much that in a year she has mastered the course of the seven-year school, passed the exam and received a diploma. At the age of 14 she arrived in Sukhumi and entered Sukhumi art school. In 1978 she went to St. Petersburg, there she was getting ready to enter the Repin Institute and lived in the family of Yefim Kopelyan, famous actor. By the time of admission an order was issued forbidding enrolling nonresident applicants, and Diana Vouba went to Tbilisi, taking a dozen of her works along with her, and entered the Academy of Arts. She defended the graduating work perfectly and immediately received an invitation to the creative workshop of the USSR Academy of Arts. But she already had a young son, so she chose to return to Abkhazia and be with him. She worked for a year at the Sukhumi Youth Theatre as a senior artist and performed decorations for the successful play called "Faryatev's Fantasy". Then she went to Moscow and entered the Creative Workshops. Her graduation work was the "Apsny" series based on the Nart epic. Since 1988, Diana is a member of the Union of Russian Artists.
The man is small, and the world is his home...
At all times, artists have travelled the world, soaking up the variety of sensations: creative imagination processes faces, colors, picture of nature and the city, and in the furnace of consciousness other pictures and images are smelted, which are different from the original ones, but still give the viewer an opportunity to feel the empathy.

Immediately after completing the postgraduate studies in 1991 Diana went for an internship to Italy. For four months she lived in Rome, went to museums and walked the streets of the legendary city with a sketchbook, painting portraits and landscapes. Among Diana's Roman portraits there were: Boncompagni Princess Ludovisi's portrait, representative of an ancient aristocratic family, portrait of the banker Federici and his wife Marizella, who played the guitar and sang beautiful Italian songs during the painting session. Everything she knew from books appeared in person before her eyes. The restored frescoes of Michelangelo irritated her by their "smoothness"; the city struck her with culture infused through the ages, and people – with caring attitude towards their cultural heritage.

After Rome there was a trip to Thailand and Cambodia in 1995. International Red Cross bought a few Diana's works and paid for her journey. Thai and Cambodian temples captured the imagination. The lack of modern culture and art was surprising, only ancient monuments were present. In Phnom Penh she attended an anniversary ceremony of Prince Sihanouk's sister, where Prince's younger sister gave her some exotic fruit, and said that the next incarnation of Diana shall be in the capital of Thailand in Tambourine Chinatown in a Brahman's family. It sounded strange to her Orthodox ear, but she complied with all the necessary standards and as a guest of honor handed cooked treats to the monks. Because of spicy and unusual food there was a feeling that the head expanded, as so many new echoes appears inside of it towards the richness of taste sensations. Cambodia shocked her with terrible poverty and the lepers on the streets. In the ancient temple complex of Ankorvat a charming six-year old boy Paul being her guide walked Diana thorough stone labyrinth and helpfully brought water. Back in Moscow she created "The Emerald Buddha" and several portraits of Buddhas and Apsaras.

In 1996, the Palestinian Ambassador in Moscow, Daur Barakat, whose portrait Diana painted, invited her to visit Tunisia and paint a portrait of the famous Gorbel family. Diana lived in their house, painted portraits and travelled the country with them. In Tunisia, her solo exhibition was held; it was visited by the Russian consulate employees that offered to place her works at Russian cultural center. Diana agreed. The Russian Embassy in Tunisia invited her to take part in the international festival in Mahares-Sfax, which annually attracted artists from around the world. There Diana was the only artist representing Russia. She had been painting portraits for two months and was honored with a gold medal for performing this work. It was in Tunisia that Diana Vouba met legendary reconnaissance scout Tatiana Matthews, English subjects, and worked on her last lifetime portrait, her heroine was 96 years old at that time. Immediately after the completion of the work on the portrait Tatiana Matthews dialed the BBC number and put Diana through to the host, she answered questions and talked about the situation in Abkhazia for 10 minutes live.

In 1997, the Martin Gallery in Basel invited Diana to organize her personal exhibition. On the first day 11 of her works out of 21 presented at the exhibition were sold, and by the end of the month – all of them were sold. Then there were two more exhibitions - in Basel and in Zurich.

In 1999, Diana went to New York thank to the invitation of the Grandt gallery. Months, during which her solo exhibition was held, flew by very fast, she worked hard painting portraits. She met with major collectors of contemporary art -Tatiana and Natalia Kolodzei, who added Diana's works to their collection. In 2001, the Union of Artists of Russia offered Diana a trip to Paris. For several months she worked in Paris in "The City of Art", certainly, went to museums and walked the city streets, the Seine fascinated her, the river truly has been the main artery of the city, and all life revolved in the orbit of its waterfront and throbbed on its waters. In Paris she painted a portrait of Madame Bruno, the founder of The City of Art, pilgrimage place for artists from around the world. She was painted by a lot of famous artists, including Georges Braque, but out of the 200 portraits painted by different artists in different times, Madame Bruno liked the one painted by Diana so much that she decided to hang it up at her home, and offered Diana a solo exhibition at Cité des Arts.

In 2001, Diana took part in the "Abstraction in Russia, the XX Century" exhibition, where all three of her works were exhibited in the Russian Museum.

In 2004, along with her son Alan, she performed a pilgrimage to India, for 40 days they've traveled the holy places, saw Delhi, Kolkata and many other cities. While being on this trip they participated in the ritual of funeral, and the smell of smoke rising from the burning body resembled the smell of a usual kebab so much that she and her son could not eat meat and became vegetarians for two years after that. The Hindu themselves say that in India everyone can find what he or she seeks: Addicts - drugs, drunks – alcohol, and Diana found spiritual beauty for herself there by meeting with a famous guru and talking to monks and ascetics. Being back in Moscow Diana implemented two new projects "Tetris" and "Ocean City", connecting Moscow, the city where she lived, with her impressions of India. "God created an ocean, a man build a city."

In 2005, Diana painted the walls at Rondine in Italy, while living in the "Casa Leonardo", and the view from her window was exactly the same as the scenery behind the Mona Lisa's back.

In 2007, she visited Brazil thanks to the invitation of the Russian Consulate General in Rio de Janeiro. She was asked to paint the picture for the embassy. Thus, "Red Moscow" series had appeared - four towers of the Moscow Kremlin and St. Basil's cathedral dome that she had presented as a gift to the embassy, which then organized her journey through the country in appreciation of it. In Brazil, she got acquainted with Oscar Niemeyer, an outstanding architect of modernity. The capital of Brazil has been completely designed by him, but one couldn't find two similar houses, the architecture of the city has been a blend of innovative ideas and colonial style. The Brazilian air was saturated with fantastic flavors of the tree of life, mango and jasmine. In Rio Diana met Tamara Fedorovna Ribeiro, Russia's native, who at the age of 16 went off at the front, was imprisoned and found herself in Brazil by marrying a Brazilian. She was a very wealthy and cultured woman, known in the country. Accidentally during the festival, they found themselves in the room at the neighboring places, started to talk and became friends, and Tamara Ribeiro showed Diana museums out of tourists' reach, helped her to understand the country and feel its spirit. In general, as Diana says, almost all of those people, whose portraits she painted, as well as many buyers, later became her friends.

Time for happiness is now,
a place for happiness is here...
— Diana, you've adapted to Moscow long ago, and how do you feel yourself back in Abkhazia?
— Not very comfortable. I do not intent to receive any special attention; I try to fit in as much as I can. I think that something is happening with young people, many of their values have transformed, and they consider marriage, a house and a car to be the life's achievement, which should fall onto them upon the wave of a magic wand. Their admiration of the criminal world frightens me, and today we are losing something that our people were saving up and maintaining for centuries. I remember the times when my grandfather stood up when his six-year old grandson entered the room in order to greet the junior, today this culture and our traditional relationship vanish and it makes me sad to notice this.
— Can these processes be affected somehow?
— Yes, if each of us honestly and in good faith will do everything he can. It will be possible only with the help of a personal example.
— In the last two years our city started to look better, what is your opinion on these changes?
— When I was traveling to Sukhumi, I had a desire to paint the city, but eventually I could not. Indeed, the buildings are getting fixed, the facades are being whitewashed. But I do not really want to see our city lacquered and turned into an old woman who had a plastic surgery, it looks ridiculous. I would have painted the buildings very carefully, so that the spirit would not leave the city.
— You bought a house in Sukhumi, are you planning to constantly come visit for work?
– I am Orthodox and I have a very serious attitude towards the demand of the faith to live mindful of death. For me it is not just a verbalism. I just want to be able to live and work here and now. I never plan anything, I rejoice every single day, and everything in my life happens spontaneously.
— Why portraits, landscapes, flowers? What meaning do they hold for you?
— I started with a portrait, as I wanted to peer into people's faces understanding them. It is another story regarding the flowers. Up to a certain point, I did not notice them, but one day, coming out of the subway, I saw a bouquet of blue irises. First I painted a flower, then - the series, I was attracted to their color and shape. Those are heavenly beings, which became the beauty's prototype for me. The flower is incredibly difficult to paint, always balancing on the verge. My abstract work for me is rather a music, while the scenery is often conditional, people are absent in it. There was a series of bottles, transparent vessels allowed me to combine light and space.
— Do you always manage to express on canvas whatever you've planned?
— Almost never and this becomes an incentive to take up the palette knife once again. The need to paint has nothing to do with a job; this is my life and my essence.
— Do you have a motto?
— I am a seeker for new beauty. Beauty is always new, it is unique, and it lies in harmony. It is in everything, even in sickness, which helps us to understand something and move on. It is the presence of God in our lives. During the war I was not able to work for almost a year, I do not even remember how this year went by. I attended classes at the icon painting school and I was offered to paint in the church. But I was not ready for this. I decided for myself that painting of the church will be my last job.
— What is it that you need for happiness?
— To have enough strength and enough health. Painting is a joyful occupation, but it requires a lot of effort and full commitment.
Diana Vouba's works have lots of pure and clear colors, they are imbued with light and they do not have the usual play of light and shade. In my opinion they are in tune with the September's transparency of air when all the colors are highlighted with glass and rinsed with the sky's evening cold. To my mind, it is the clarity and the purity, that all of us are lacking in our everyday life. Diana's works help to stop an everyday restless run, slow down for a moment and realize that beauty is always around us.