By Manvi Pant
Every artist has a story to tell – of cynicism, resolve, idiosyncrasies, discord, love, revolution, acceptance, of human evolution, and all that surrounds it. Sometimes, they offer a story of their own life – feelings, remembrances, recognitions, thoughts that may have lain quietly for a while and suddenly come to the fore.
Meet Chicago-based artist Diana Leviton Gondek, whose stories are beautifully crafted in the form of an artwork, and when we look at it from the other side of the canvas, it becomes a voice to resonate with.
“I had a happy childhood growing up in the city of Evanston, a suburb of Chicago, surrounded by art and diversity. My mother raised my two older brothers and me after the loss of our father when I was in the fourth grade.
She was an educator for children with learning disabilities and was a strong influence in my life. Whenever I wanted to do something, my mother always backed me up. And so, I never felt insecure or scared in following my heart, or passion. I was able to pick my own road, make my decisions and go forward,” recalls Diana, who feels that the world is different now – a wearier and more insecure place.
Diana’s early days of schooling had a vital role to play in developing her creative side. “Theatre was a part of my education from grade school. Music and fine art were part of the curriculum. Being close to Chicago also added to it. It allowed us to visit the best museums and see wonderful theatre, dance, and concerts.”
It was also the time when Pop Art had emerged as an art movement. “It overwhelmed me, and I adored it. I feel in youth, one doesn’t over judge pop art, just enjoys the visual aspect of it. I was also influenced by the Renaissance, Impressionism, Expressionism and Surrealism,” she shares.
With a Bachelor’s in fine arts, Diana went on to become the art director at the Northwestern University. At present, she is an artist-in-residence at Chicago’s Zhou B Art Center. Well established in the Chicago art scene, she has numerous group-shows, solo shows, gallery representations and multiple publications including two book covers behind her.
Her work displays a certain kind of kinetics and see-through imagery expressing feelings and thoughts through figurative forms. There are also colourful images with uncomplicated straightforwardness. Some moments are, in fact, autobiographical.
“I think every stage of my life is put into my artwork. In the beginning, I did a lot of transparency paintings with oil on canvas with limited colour. They are one-act plays where a figure is used, but it does not represent nudity. It is a story that I have put together. From there, I voyaged into introspection – what’s happening in the world, in the political arena. For instance, I created a piece called ‘Family Wall’ that depicts a large family sitting together with grandparents in front and grandchildren behind. In this, only colours of the Mexican and US flag are used. It’s what a wall should be. Another one, done in a multimedia mix, is ‘False Profit’ that depicts people following someone who is not who they claim to be. Putting them in harm’s way.”
Diana’s political series is subtle and non-aggressive. One of her pieces commissioned for the Special Olympics is currently in Washington DC with Tim Shriver, the nephew of President John F. Kennedy and the chairman of the Special Olympics.
Outside of Illinois, Indiana, New York and Art Basel Miami (thrice), Diana has been a part of exhibitions in Busan, Kora and London. As a creative artist striving to better herself in her craft and life, she embraces her imperfections gracefully. She acknowledges the presence of insecurity in art and sees it a pathway to growth.
“Feeling confident all the time does not make for good artwork,” asserts Diana who admires the work of her artist friends too, especially Carl Virgo. “He is an unpretentious, generous and very gifted abstract artist,” she shares. “I was very lucky to be his neighbour at the Zhou B Art Center for several years.”
Some places are more conducive to art and creativity than others. As an artist, Diana feels Chicago is a consistent market. It is a community with art venues outside of its galleries. For instance, the Zhou B Art Center holds a community of about 70 artists. But how viable is it to survive as an artist?
“It’s not easy,” she says. “I do commission work. That helps me pay my bills. I am also grateful that I had the steady job at the NW University early on to help me feel more financially comfortable, otherwise it would have been even more stressful.”
Diana also highlights some personal struggles that come along with this territory. “Artists pour their heart in their art pieces. It can make one emotionally and mentally vulnerable,” she shares, adding, “And so, it’s important for one to be strong. I also find that giving myself timely breaks to live life outside of my artwork helps me stay balanced.”
First published in eShe’s February 2020 issue