One artist’s quest to save our heritage
How does one recognise a true artist?
In the Tradition and the Individual Talent, the writer, T S Eliot says, “The progress of an artist is a continual self-sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality,” but in Diana’s case, she’s certainly kept her personality of colour throughout all her works and in her passion.
If we adopt ‘some’ of TS Eliot’s description of a committed artist’s disposition, then we have found a true artist here in our own village – one that locals and non-locals can be proud of.
Many of us in the village may not have heard of Diana Francis (partly because her gallery, Diana Francis Studio, is “hidden” in an upstairs loft along Merah Saga’s side – The Workloft@ChipBee) but for more than 10 years, this artist has been doing Singapore a massive favour by single-handedly striving to put on record Singapore’s vanishing heritage with a faithfulness like no other artists has captured before her – and doing this with a talent rarely seen.
The irony of it all is that this lady is not a child of Singapore but of England. Notwithstanding, recently, the National Heritage Board has recognized her work by becoming a key sponsor of her endeavor Diana Francis Designs – which is to record and interpret in her own way the vanishing landscape, flora, animals/insects and Singapore’s mix of cultural ethnicity, which give Singapore her heritage.
In 2010, she was invited by the Singapore Sun Festival, to give her interpretations of the “seven artistic disciplines of visual art, music, film, literature, food, wine and wellness””, which were the event categories subsumed under the “Art of Living Well” theme adopted for the festival.
Her response, entitled, “Life Is Beautiful”, resulted in an exclusive exhibition of her effort in the event, which showcased her interpretative skills and artistic talent. The Sun event, which attracted the likes of Jose Carreras, Sharon Stone, George Benson, Curtis Stone and a host of world renowned artists from seven artistic disciplines has catapulted this artist to the world stage.
Not surprisingly, Diana comes from a family of professional artists. Her mother was extremely artistic in her watercolour works and sung opera. One of her sisters is highly accomplished portrait artist in London, another danced with the Royal Ballet Company and her brother is an architect/designer, also based in Asia. When asked if she came from a Bohemian environment, she says, “My parents are not Bohemian but we were immersed in art from our infancy. Art is our mother tongue so to speak. We were born into it.”
After graduating from the Wimbledon School of Art, she worked for a design company in London’s West End before deciding to relocate to Asia as part of her family was at that time in Singapore and Malaysia also.
Diana moved her career into Advertising which saw her living in Hong Kong for 4 years with McCann-Erickson, before they transferred her to Kuala Lumpur Malaysia, to work as their Regional Creative Manager for ASEAN. She travelled extensively throughout her job and was continually inspired by the differences in cultures she experienced in her professional travels.
In 1996, she decided to make Singapore her home after meeting her husband. She joined Ogilvy & Mather Singapore. After a couple of years and a then young family, she moved out of the fast track in advertising and started her own graphic design company. She also went back to her fine art roots and again took up the paintbrush, recording her times in Asia, essentially Singapore.
“I had always noticed that Singapore was such a very young country with little known of it’s Singapore heritage especially amongst it’s younger generation. So, I wanted to paint these vanishing images. I like to interpret these images from a non-Singaporean perspective (I’m a huge romantic by heart). This is why even though people can relate to my paintings in the subject matter, they’re drawn to my interpretation, which is quite unlike Singapore has seen before – in the colour palette I choose and use.”
By 2006, Diana was totally consumed by her artistic fervor. Between then and 2010, Diana produced a series of beautiful pieces – and held 6 exhibitions in between this time – all bearing her unmistakable style. Diana’s paintings of local subjects are expressed through vivid and bright colours, and they have the ability to draw the observer into a reflective mood. In 2008, Diana was selected to represent UK at the Beijing Olympics for her Fine Art which was a huge honour.
Interest in Diana’s heritage works grew and soon the National Heritage Board noticed her efforts. Successfully obtaining the Hi2P (Heritage Incentive Program Grant), Diana began applying her works of Singapore’s heritage to products such as greeting cards, tea towels and coasters, in conjunction with her continuing to paint her commissioned pieces for her clientele to reach a broader spectrum of audience.
“Moving into new ventures with my art applied to retailable items is very exciting for me”. In conjunction with developing her own range of merchandise, Diana has extensively worked for the Elephant Parade this past few months in 2011. She retails her own brand ‘Diana Francis Designs’ at TANGs, both in Orchard and at Vivo for the Elephant Parade.
Other such projects see an exciting range of her themed merchandise about to appear at ASM (Art Science Museum) and also MBS (Marina Bay Sands), so keep your eyes out in 2012!
Diana is more optimistic now than before with her works. If the range of merchandise itself wasn’t keeping her busy enough, Diana has just signed a book deal with Thames & Hudson in Singapore, for a range of children’s books she’s registered copyright to, under her and her writer’s names. 2012 certainly seems to be very busy and exciting indeed for her.
Diana’s products can be seen on her own web store selling postcards, towels, mouse pads, coasters, wrapping papers, etc that are based on her local paintings. With a global distributorship via an established distributor in the making, she understandably has every reason to be excited!
Her work will certainly become a key reminder of Singapore’s past for the next generation of Singaporeans and art collectors alike. This is an area for Diana that will never become extinct, just as Diana Francis will forever remain in the Book of Good Works By Singaporeans. Which is why I mentioned TS Eliot had it almost right, when describing a true artist.. Almost!
Support our heritage. Support Diana Francis by going to her online store at http://www.dianafrancisdesigns.com/
Her works are on display at Diana Francis Studio at the address below.
Anyone interested in retailing Diana Francis’ merchandise can write to her at the below email address.
Diana Francis Studio
#02-74 Jalan Merah Saga (The Workloft@Chip Bee)
Tel: (65) 6474 4202
Web sites: www.dianafrancis.com and www.dianafrancisdesigns.com
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