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.
Diana’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 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.
Through 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.
Diana Tam Gallery is located off Pango road. Gallery 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.