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The Collectors Series: Diane and Carlos Lara

Diane and Carlos Lara have a substantial art collection.  The Saskatchewan-based artist and her husband have been amassing this collection since the 1980s.  It includes many works by artists with a Saskatchewan connection.  This includes works by established artists like Anne Meggitt, James Henderson, Gus Froese, Zach Dietrich, Wendy Parsons, Jack Sures,  and Anne Heeney.  It also includes works by emerging artists like Jody Greenman-Barber, Jennifer McRorie, Brandan Doty, Chris Wikman and Ross Melanson. 

Their collection also houses historical works by artists like Joan Rankin, an abstract painter who was associated with Clement Greenberg and members of the Regina Five while building an international reputation for her work, and the renowned artist Robert Motherwell.  Their collection also includes works by nationally-exhibiting artists like Susan Rankin, Brad Copping, and Erica Grimm-Vance and includes works by American artists like printmakers, Ron Schaefer and Jackie McElroy, and ceramicist, Butch Holden.

 Recently, I interviewed Diane Lara about her collection, its history, its mandate and her views about collecting art and art, itself.

When did you first realize that you were interested in art?

I think I was always interested in art; I was always curious about it and I always liked making it.  My Mom and art teachers at school encouraged me.  I was good at it and enjoyed it and it just felt right.  But I wasn’t encouraged to think of art as a serious career.  I’m from a blue-collar working family in the 50s and the best career a girl should think of having, other than being a housewife, was being a secretary, teacher, or nurse.  We never had the opportunity to go to museums or galleries; I received my visual influences from books in the doctors’ offices, my art teachers, the odd school museum trip, and then more books.

Thomas Law
“Chris at the Window” by Thomas K. Law, 1986, 116/200. The first Lara acquisition.

What was the first piece of art that you ever acquired?

If I remember correctly, the first piece of original art I acquired was back in the late 80s, when I came across this beautiful lithograph in a gift shop in Calgary, where I lived.  It was a large drawing, limited edition litho; although, at the time, I didn’t know the difference between a reproduction and an original print.   I’ve always been attracted to mark-making and the lines in this drawing were calling to me.  I actually still have it up on a wall, in the same matting and frame I made at one of those U-frame It places!

How did you build your collection?

I didn’t feel I could afford to purchase any other art back then, so that print was my one and only “real” art piece I acquired until I went to university.  I returned to school in the 90s to do what I always felt I was meant to do, which was learning all about art and making art!  This is when I became surrounded by beautiful, original art every day.  I wish I had taken a more pro-active approach to collecting back then and traded more works with my fellow students, but most of my works were assigned projects and so were my colleagues’.  It was during my graduate degree that I actively traded art with my colleagues and, though I can’t remember which was first or even last trade, I acquired many beautiful pieces at that time.  All those art works I acquired have memories and a story attached to them.  Some of my undergraduate and graduate colleagues are now doing quite well though!

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Work by Chris Wikman, Susan Rankin, and Rob Froese (top to bottom).

There’s just so much wonderful art out there and you can’t have it all!  I love all kinds of art, even that which can’t be categorized.  However, there is one necessary criterion:  there needs to be an immediate connection between the work and me.  Everything else becomes secondary, but builds upon this first aspect of connection.  After that “love at first sight” hits, I ask myself the whys and how comes, etc.

I try to support artists from my community and the surrounding region.  Artists I know and have spent some time with have made many of the works in my collection, but there are also works by artists I’ve admired from afar.

By the way, I also have many utilitarian art objects in my home that I can touch and use every day; things like mugs, serving dishes, plates and teapots.  I think “Why buy some machine-made object when you can purchase a beautiful, one-of-a-kind, handmade object by a friend and fellow artist just down the road?”  You’re also supporting your community when you buy these things and it will mean so much more to you as you use them and look at them.  Art and life seem inseparable to me now; if only I could’ve acknowledged that earlier.

Do you concern yourself with the investment aspects of art at all? Are you buying art as an investment?

That is definitely one of the secondary factors I am consciously thinking about when I fall in love with a work.  Investment falls under the research period when I’m thinking seriously of acquiring a piece.  Typically, I look into the artist and their practice before I acquire a piece.  However, sometimes love just trumps all.

What type of advice would you give a collector starting out right now?

Hmmm, I think the most important thing to remember is get to know your community and its artists and if you don’t care for or like the art you see, don’t buy it. I think it’s just consumption if you are buying for the sake of buying? If you buy only for the sake of buying, you just have “stuff” surrounding you, not beautiful original works that mean so much to you and brings so much joy (and memories) to you. Usually I know immediately when I love a work. Be true to yourself and don’t try to please the expectations of anyone else’s view of art.  Buy from your own “connectivity” – there’s a certain humanity in that I think.

But if I was giving advice to someone wanting to collect, I would say try looking within your own community, your region or the part of the world you live in.  The works by these artists will likely mean more to you than someone’s work in a land or place you’ve never visited; I know I wouldn’t be able to relate to it.

JGB
“In the Presence of Absence” by Jody Greenman-Barber

What was your most recent purchase and why did you buy it?

My most recent purchase was this amazing ceramic sculpture by Jody Greenman Barber. I’ve watched her progress from making cylinders to making these “dancing sculptures” with clay. Though these later works don’t actually dance, their form insinuates movement, albeit in a static shape.  I think she’s innovative and energetic in her way of handling the medium and isn’t afraid of experimenting with creation and working through the challenges associated with clay (which are many).

When I bought this piece, I was able to pay her small payments until I paid for the full price. If you really want something, artists are generally quite compensating in finding a way for payment that’s good for both of you.  I’m sure I’ll be drawn to more enticing work by Jody in the future.

Which pieces of work in your own collection have you been thinking about lately and why?

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Joan Rankin’s painting, “victory” is on the right. Also in this picture are works by Erica Grimm-Vance, Jennifer McRorie, Susan Rankin, Ross Melanson, Anita Rocamora and Jack Sures

Well, I’m always looking at and contemplating various works, but lately it’s more about memories centered around a number of works I have that were made by an old friend of mine that recently passed away, Joan Rankin. I know it is now too late for any more questions about the works and there will be no more stories about art, artists, or what it was like for a female artist creating those works in the 60s. I am only too happy I had the opportunity to really get to know this artist and I will always be able to enjoy her strong presence through her art.

Who is not in your collection and you would like them to be? Who is in your line of fire these days?

Oh my god, I admire so many artists and their works and would love to have their work on display in my home! I have to admit I’m always looking and right now there’s a couple artists that stick in my mind – maybe it’s bad luck to say my thoughts out loud, but one is having a show soon in Regina. Logically; however, “my line of fire”, prioritized, might be some works by my professors from U of R – I have a couple, but that’s it. And then continue looking at local and regional works I’m attracted to. I’m no longer working, so it will just take longer to acquire works now, so patience is a must.

I have a more general question about art, Who is your favourite or most inspiring artist and why?

Oh, Ross, you ask too many difficult questions!  I don’t think I really have a favourite artist – it evolves through time. Historically, I was obsessed with Kathe Kollwitz and then Vija Celmens and the conceptualist, Eva Hesse. Closer to me in time and place, and more accessible, continues to be our local ceramic artists, Wendy Parsons and Zach Dietrich. They never cease to amaze me with their new ideas and projects – from shapes and forms of utilitarian objects to assemblages and sculptures!

Getting back to collecting, I have one final question.  Why, in your view, is it important to have original art in your house?

There’s consumption and then there’s collecting.  Original art means a lot to me, especially when someone I know and/or admire makes it. What better way can you acknowledge their talent, and show your support of the arts, than to share it with others that visit you in your home? I hope I’ll always be able to continue with collecting art!

This image includes works by Zach Dietrich, Rob Froese, Anne Meggitt, and Jody Greenman-Barber
This image includes works by Zach Dietrich, Rob Froese, Anne Meggitt, and Jody Greenman-Barber
Ross Melanson

About Ross Melanson

He is a poet, visual artist, and independent scholar living in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. He is the Founding Editor of page51 – a website dedicated to exploring the relationship between art, culture, and philosophy. Read more →, or

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