Breathing & living art
Croatian sculptor and painter Ana Tzarev is finding her peace in art.
BY: Eleanor Yap
World-renowned Croatian sculptor and painter Ana Tzarev loves her flowers and it is evident in her latest art installation called “Love” which was recently launched for the first time in Asia and here in Singapore. It can be seen till February 28, 2014, at the ArtScience Museum at Marina Bay Sands.
The installation is part of her Love & Peace Global Campaign, which has been launched in numerous cities across the world beginning with London on Park Lane, and including Venice for the 55th Biennale, Monaco, New York, Prague and Rome.
Ageless Online speaks to the 76-year-old about her “second career” and how art has transformed her life:
How many grandchildren/children do you have and are any of them following in your footsteps?
I have three children and four grandchildren. My grandchildren are still very young, but a love of the arts does grow in my family, so it may be in their future. My sister, Milijada Barada, is a wonderful painter in the contemporary Croatian art scene.
You were once a successful fashion designer with your own couture label and you switched to become a sculptor and painter as a second career at the age of 51. Was sculpting and painting in your blood in your early days?
I could never see my transition from a career in fashion to a career in art as a ‘switch’, for the two are so closely related in my history. It was nothing more than choosing to focus on the path of greater freedom and self-expression. Fashion is full of drawing and sculpting – to take an idea and create something physical from it is itself a kind of art. But when I was in the industry, Paris dictated the trends. Creative output was limited to the style of the day. With the art I make today, nothing can contain me, and my spirit is at peace because of that.
Was it challenging to switch? How did you slowly establish yourself?
It was not a challenge at all to devote myself fully to what I love to do most. I was so happy to make the choice that would give me greater freedom. ‘Establishing’ myself was not my intent – I just wanted to paint and sculpt what was alive in my heart, purely for myself. The number of paintings grew and grew … and they were asking to bring colour and life into galleries. They needed to be shared with others.
What do you usually paint or sculpt? How many pieces approximately have you done?
My art captures cultures and histories, how I have seen the world and all its wonders. I paint flowers because, to me, they are the greatest symbol of joy. Since I treat creation as my career and work at it every day, the amount of paintings and sculptures I have made numbers in the thousands.
What have been two highlights in your second career? Do you think by doing this work you have found what you call “your great success”?
There have been many shining moments in my life as an artist. I am so proud and thankful that a number of esteemed critics of our day have placed their seal of approval on my work. Edward Lucie-Smith, Dr Alexander Borovsky and Marco Tonelli, in particular, have written magnificent words that praised my work as part of the larger historical picture.
Another memory I am proud to possess is that of my “Exposed” exhibition at Saatchi Gallery in London in 2012. One hundred thirty-six thousand people came to see my art. It was an absolute honour and a blessing to give the gift of myself to so many.
I am not looking for any “great success” when I make my art. I only seek fulfilment for my soul through creation. That is what brings me satisfaction.
What advice would you give to others to keep on dreaming and never stop learning? Any other secrets to living a long and happy life?
The words of Rudyard Kipling in the poem “If—“ have remained with me for decades: ‘If you can fill the unforgiving minute/With 60 seconds’ worth of distance run/Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it …’ Your dreams are a precious gift, but nothing will come of them unless you try to make them into reality.
You must strive to keep learning all through your life – make a point of learning something new every day! It is never too late to start. If you do not continue to build your knowledge, you will risk losing it!
If you didn’t paint or sculpt, what would you have done?
I would have been a writer. My life is too full of stories to keep them locked inside – many fantastic experiences and unusual coincidences. If I were not capturing scenes from my life with visual art, I would be painting pictures with words.
Besides your second career, what else keeps you busy? Tell me more about Ana’s Children and your hopes for your initiative. (The global initiative was started when she was 74 and it supports the education and empowerment of more than 10,000 underprivileged girls in developing countries).
I have a great garden to tend! The many varieties and colours I find there give me endless inspiration. I’ve cared for flowers all my life, starting with my childhood during the war. They are my sanctuary. Aside from painting, nothing else brings me such complete happiness and peace.
Ana’s Children was born out of the desire to offer girls every opportunity to succeed and reach their full potential. I grew up in a time and place where education for girls was not a priority, and so I know very well what it is like to have to struggle to reach that critical path of knowledge. Education holds the key to all the doors of success in the world, and it is my hope that Ana’s Children will give girls who have been prevented from achieving their dreams safe passage into higher learning. It is only a matter of time until girls will possess equal freedom to find their share of the world – and it is my dream that Ana’s Children will bring that day closer to us.
Can you give us a window of your typical day?
I hold myself to a rather regimented schedule. I rise each day at 6.30am, make tea for my husband and myself, have breakfast while watching the news, and always set myself to paint by 8am sharp. I take short breaks to have coffee and read the newspaper, and will be at work right until 5pm. After I finish painting for the day, I will take a walk and a swim before having a light dinner. In this way, I stay active for the health of my body and my spirit. At night, I read and check the news, and I am always in bed by 10pm so that I am refreshed and ready to do it all again. To face Kipling’s ‘unforgiving minute’, I do my best to fill every moment!
If you could change one thing in your life, what would it be?
If I could, I would stop ageing so that I could keep painting forever.
Do you still do any work in fashion?
The fashion in my life is now in support of my art. For the Love & Peace Campaign, we are designing shirts, handbags and jewellery so that fans and supporters can take the flowers’ message with them wherever they go.
What are three things that are on top of your bucket list?
I do not believe in lists. If there is something that I want or need to do, I just do it! Time is too precious and fleeting to waste by saying ‘what if … ?’
Let’s talk about your Love & Peace Global Campaign. What does this campaign mean to you and how do you hope to leave an impact?
The Love & Peace Campaign is uniquely special to me because it was built out of a strong and pure message, stronger than any I have ever expressed through my art before. My vision for the campaign is to unify all people of the world by the universal beauty of flowers and the incredible power of art. Communication is necessary to create beneficial change for the world, and flowers speak the wordless language of true happiness, something shared and appreciated by people of all lands.
It is my dream that by bringing these joyful flower sculptures to public spaces across the world, we will begin an intercultural dialogue to forge a path toward peace. Art and nature will become the bridge between nations, and conversation will become the building blocks of a brighter future.
Finally, can you please finish this sentence: Growing old … ?
… is growing wise, tolerant, understanding and loving. Never let fear stand in the way of passion, because passion is what becomes your soul’s sustenance.