Get to know the artist and her travels.
While sailing many places around the world for 30 years with her husband, Diana Gilson filled up stacks of sketchbooks with landscapes, seascapes and colors that reflected the cultures and scenes she saw during her travels.
“When I’d finish, I’d think, ‘Someday I’m going to blow that up (on canvases), and it’s going to be big,’” she said.
Her colorful paintings now cover the walls in a studio room in artist J.J. Graham’s Salvo Art Project in Bunnell, as well as in her home studio in Palm Coast. Her work has made such an impact on the county since she moved here in 2000 that she has been named the Gargiulo Art Foundation’s 2017 Flagler County Artist of the Year.
After moving here, Gilson took lessons at the Daytona Beach Art League with Peter Cerreta, who received the inaugural Flagler County Artist of the Year award in 2000. She joined the Gargiulo Art Foundation about 10 years ago and has continued her passion ever since.
Gilson said she initially struggled a bit in Cerreta’s class. She knew what she wanted to do, but she had a hard time getting everything onto the big canvas, she said. One day she had some leftover paint and fooled around to add figures on the canvas. But when Cerreta praised the spur-of-the-moment creation, it led Gilson to paint figures for about five years.
Once Gilson had said all she had to say through figures, she started creating abstract art with acrylics and some featuring pastels and chalks. Her focus now is abstract expressionism, where there are no recognizable figures, objects or scenes on the canvas.
“Abstract is very hard to get moving because you have to have a structure underneath,” she said. “You can’t just put your colors on, you have to have some sort of understructure. … There’s something that’s holding everything together.”
Gilson said abstract expressionism can be exhausting — mentally and physically. As she draws lines and adds colors, she lets her emotions takeover, using her entire body to create each stroke on the canvas.
“It’s not a landscape, it’s not a still life, it’s not a cityscape; it’s just what you want to see in it,” Gilson said.
A lifetime of inspiration
Gilson remembers watching her mother paint during her childhood. She said that she was a great colorist.
“My earliest memory was she had this box, and it had little squares and colors in it,” Gilson said. “And she took this brush and she put it into water, then she put it into that square of orange and then she put it on the paper, and the orange went onto the paper, and I thought, ‘How did she do that? That’s so wonderful.’ I just couldn’t understand the process, but I was fascinated by the color.”
While attending the University of California at Berkeley, Gilson learned to teach Spanish and French. After graduating in 1967, her work took her to France. In the early 1970s, Gilson spent her weekends as a street painter in Paris.
“I remember, one day, I sold a painting to some woman,” Gilson said. “She was so elegant; she has a mink stole on and a fur hat, and I was thinking ‘Oh my goodness, how lovely.’”
After the woman bought a small abstract piece from Gilson to hang in her house in the Bahamas, a few of the French street artists came over and informed her the woman was Claudette Colbert, the famous film actress.
Gilson met her husband, Bud, in 1976, and they began their journey around the world.
“He invited us to cross the Atlantic with him, and after I crossed the Atlantic, I thought, ‘That’s the man I want to spend the rest of my life with,’” she said.