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Darinka Blagaj

Documenting Her Studio

Toronto, Canada: where
07.12.2018: when
20 mins: read time

I met Darinka almost a year ago. Its crazy how time flies, she was wandering Kensington Market when she came into a show I was having at 187 Augusta. Since then, I have visited her studio several times. A place where her paintings have surrounded and covered me with all her beautiful bright colours. Most recently when I visited her studio we gathered berries off trees and she showed me to kiss the rainwater off of roses. The best rose water in the world she advised me. It was pretty refreshing. 


I helped her bring piles of drawings out of drawers and off shelves as we catalogued archival pieces. Some from the beginning of her art career in 1985. She is preparing to pack up and move out of the studio she has been in for the last several years. Many art pieces and memories are revisited as we worked through the afternoon and chatted about her art-making.




From your early work until now your colour palette often features bright colours, but there is a change in how you work these colours together. What attracts you to choosing colours for your pieces?

That is like asking Nature why you use colour. Colour attracts me because of the emotional and the energetic vibration and the actual communication of frequency. We are electromagnetic beings and we are living on a planet that has an electromagnetic biofield. Colour in itself is a reflection off of surfaces and plays with light. So when I first studied -  kind of even before I really studied art I studied sound and light. For me I think colour is more of a musical harmonic then it is an actual thing. The reason I chose colour, in the beginning, is because I crave colour. My eyes have to see colour. I live from colour to colour. Sometimes I don’t live well if I am not in colour. So I choose my colour as a breath of air. I choose my colour like energy for the day. When I am working on a painting I only choose the colour that I feel at that moment. If I have an intention for the piece - like I am going to paint the heart chakra - I only pick the colour that I feel in the moment arose in the attention and intention of that moment. I won’t pick a colour from my thoughts or because it is representational. It is very very present and spontaneous, it has nothing to do with content or trying to create some kind of characters or worlds or dynamics or composition. Not like that at all, although all those things happen. 

You are often wearing quite colourful clothing. When are you getting dressed in the morning is that equally important to you to think about what you want to feel or project for the day when you want to get dressed?

Yeah, I used to actually dress according to colour more than to what actually works. So for many years of my life I actually never noticed that my clothes sometimes look ridiculous because they don’t actually even work together. But they were theatrical - they had all the pieces that I needed of energy that day. Well, sometimes I would change five or six times a day, it was just in the moment. So yeah I think the level of performance art that I live is so exponential that it is hard really for me to distinguish what is my performance art and what is my daily life. My daily life is so integrated with my expression, colour being a big part of that.


Are you still creating performance art pieces?

Yeah, every day. Do I document them and turn them into pieces that I then later catalogue and showcase? No, a lot of my performance art pieces are me spontaneously living. I think my most profound work is the acknowledgement of this moment. It's really what my PhD is about. It’s the acknowledgement of presence, nowness and beingness. That, that is my aim of living here; to make myself happy in that space of now and not to live in my brain which is constantly projecting and thinking and interacting in ways that our social sphere decided was going to be a way for us to live. I don’t feel like it’s a separate part of my reality. Though I do actually have pieces that I perform at times which are staged. But they are not staged like I am going to do this. More so I’ll have elements and at that moment my intention is to create this ceremony or this moment or this communication, just this experience - then I do it. But I don’t really know what I am going to do and things will just happen. 


Once I wore this silver body suit and at the last minute, I changed to a black bodysuit because I felt like I was gonna have to cut the bodysuit out and I liked the silver one too much to cut it. So I put the black on one and I had a projector of slides of performance art of me that I did in New York - in the nude relating to objects in different ways and then I wanted to take those slides and project them onto my body so I could be a body canvas. I had them project it behind me first so I was in an illuminated space made by the projector of pictures of me onto of me. I was also a shadow dancer in front of it. Then the projector was pushed closer and closer to me - meaning the large projected image was now shrinking in size. It was landing on my belly eventually as I took a pair of scissors and started cutting out this big hole in the middle of my body suit around my belly, for the image to fit into. It was called Massage the Underbelly. That was the performance piece. While setting up that performance I ran out of time - so I had to cut out the hole in my bodysuit in front of everyone. When I took the scissors there were a lot of scared faces. I kind of looked up at them thinking wow... okay whatever you are thinking about. So I cut this hole out of my bodysuit and the image was there on my body.  Then I did this dance where I actually moved my body and stomach area in a kind of massaging way. I massaged the image on my belly. It was an amazing piece. Then the projector got closer and closer until it kind of disappeared in my belly button. I wish I had that on video. And now by telling you this story, you have it in your imagination!


A lot of your paintings feature little characters who dance through and the jesters who move through the piece but also through the series of pieces. Can you describe some of the characters and maybe the intention or story behind them or for them?

I am the kind of person who has a lot of perception naturally. So if I see the floor, a floor with leaves and stuff I’ll see a character. If I see hair on the bathroom wall in the shower, I see a character. If I see leaves and they are dancing in a certain way I’ll see characters. So I literally see characters... In my first twenty years of working, I saw characters everywhere. I was constantly seeing beings. Everything to me was alive, constantly. When I became a mother I found that  I was doing that less. I was focusing more on my kids. And more on this 3D reality and kind of getting stuck in a lot of stuff in this reality too. That perception came out of just allowing myself to notice stuff. So the characters come from there, and then I can go through long periods of time where I don’t pay attention to them. I cannot see anything, but it’s not that they are not there. So when I am painting and something happens with some colour or a moment with some lines I’ll see a character in it. Sometimes I will flush it out, and sometimes I won’t. I can communicate with that being and show it, or I won’t and will leave it kind of secret. Someone else may also see it but they won’t see lines around it and they won’t see it as a fully flushed out drawing.  To me, they are moments of energy, an interaction between realms of awareness and of being alive.  I think that there is more alive in reality then we can imagine with our limited construct of believing in a 3-D kind of world and only in linear time. We are shallow perceivers until we open up our ideas. 


Any person who takes any kind of a substance realizes pretty fast that there is way more going on - or available to be perceived than what I saw a minute ago *laughs*. I, personally do not make art under the influence of substances - I feel stronger and more able when I feel grounded and present, activated naturally into my flow. I have experimented with things here and there. Mind-expanding substances doesn’t have to be a thing like cannabis,  LSD or a mushroom. It can actually be a crystal or a rock. Being in nature for any period of time and getting super grounded. Nature is a mind altering substance. It's just our perception in this society has gotten so numb. When I place those characters everywhere it is just the perception that I feel them, see them and bring them forward and say hey “ check this out, this is here. It’s possible and it’s a fun moment”. 


I have seen a few pieces that you have made with Forest. But have you incorporated either of your children as characters in any of your art pieces?

The first piece ever was when Tamalei was four years old or five years old. He drew with pastel on one of my canvases in progress. I told him he could. He would have never ever drawn on a piece of mine or violated it in any way. My children are incredibly respectful of my work, it hasn’t even been a question. They have never even run into a piece or anything. So I have always had this very open reality with my work and so when Tamalei first did that it was an incredible thing. I wanted to collaborate with him and he drew these incredible turtles in this one piece and it was phenomenal. We have collaborated a little but not too much. As for placing them in pieces; when Forrest was about one or so I did a painting with her in it. Later when I looked at it, the painting felt like it had such a responsibility for her that I didn’t want to laden her with the energetic responsibility of what that painting was about. It was energetic more than physical, just a beautiful image of her walking in a yellow field. I started to turn that painting into something else. I painted over it a lot. I do have a painting of my son and I have a few drawings of Forrest but I don’t have too many works. We haven’t done much collaborating over the years. It's been more like when I became a mom I started to have a different reality with art making. My reality was daily happening. There is daily art happening with the kids. We made a lot of art together but it was different, it was related to being together and being together meant making art as a way to live. 

Forest had also participated in your Wedding Dress Run. Can you tell me a bit about that piece of performance art?

It was her idea actually to get a bunch of wedding dresses and to make art with them. Then when I got them I thought hmm... we should do something in them too. I was just installing my show FLOW in Yorkville, and I had volunteered to dance as a part of another choreographer’s show. Her piece had us wearing wedding dress, on the street. It was very scripted and a little serious. I wanted to do something fun with a live musician.  I asked Forrest to ask her friends to come and be a part of a fun flash mob in Yorkville where many women would run out of my exhibition onto the street and do a “Day of Bliss” ceremony in the parkette. I like to put artworks, installations and shows into places that need flow. 


Wedding Dress Run was a piece of choreography that went all the way through Yorkville with live musician, Tatjana Cornij, playing her accordion. The sound was improvised folklore music based on Georgian folk songs. We ran along the streets and we danced around having fun for no reason - many people joined us or at least smiled. There were women who had never gotten married and were very excited to wear a wedding dress. There were women who never thought they would get married and experience the dress, so they wanted to. Also, a few who just really liked wedding dresses period. There were about fifteen or twenty women who showed up and most of them were really dressed up. There were two flash dances. One close to the gallery - the other one was a romp through all of Yorkville. Dancing outside in front of a big hotel which was kind of funny. The idea was to dance to the music, enjoy the street, be alive and present wearing this wacky dresses. They can be really long and cumbersome. For some women, it was a lot to hold and to keep a hold of as you are trying to move. Forrest’s dress actually ripped, all down her back at some point, making it necessary for her to turn back - we had no safety pins! She missed the entire piece. She got outside and someone stepped on her dress ripping it right to the ground. It was an intense moment.


What else did you feel about this piece?

I watched the video when I first met you, Maybe almost a year ago now. I can’t exactly remember. But every time I come over I see the wedding dresses hanging, so I always have a bit of nostalgia for something that I don’t really

know about.

I’ll have to quote one of my close friends. She said, “Wedding dresses, when you see a bunch of them like that, are like the froth on the quantum wave. They go up and down with the swells”. It speaks about the times we are within right now - a wedding dress is a symbol of a mass mindset sold idea. The idea doesn’t really work for many individuals. The wedding dress, the ring, the custom in this culture where you pay a lot of money and get this one day. A ritual is performed by people who virtually never perform rituals. I think it is extremely intense and something to be aware of. That you are actually creating an energetic bound moment and content that is going to affect you. Other than having the symbol people don’t really have the tools to support working in the relationship - the actual reason why we are sold on marriage in the first place. Two becoming one. For me, I never wore a white wedding dress at my wedding, I wore an Ethiopian wedding dress without knowing it at the time. 


The iconic wedding dress was a novelty for me to discover and re-define. I never had the feeling of being in one before. So when I had a large stack of them given to me, I put them on and ran around my studio, bouncing in them -  it was really fun. I decided to wear them out in public to all kinds of cultural functions all over the city -  literally spending the summer wearing wedding dresses. I'd show up at art gallery openings in a wedding dress, at the Casa Loma Symphonywearing a wedding dress, I’d ride my bike to a coconut festival at Metro Hall wearing a wedding dress! It was very tricky. I drove my car wearing a wedding dress, well it is very hard to see the pedals, cause some of the dresses have so much skirt and so much pouffe - all you are is this giant white pouffe in a car. I  have never really seen anyone else driving a car in a wedding dress, it was a neat experience. 


I loved the experience of re-defining. I was on the subway and went to an outdoor concert at City Hall with one with my friends, she was also in a wedding dress. People thought and assumed that we just got married! People can assume a lot of stuff. But most people were always smiling. They think something might just have happened that is exciting to you. It was a little out of context most of the time, I would get a lot of strange comments and people would sometimes be looking around for the rest of the group. Like - “where is the groom?” *laughs*


Was this summer before or after the run?

It was all happening at the same time, in the summer of 2015. My show was up for about a month and a half - we did the first dance near the beginning and the second Wedding Dress Run near the end. I kept one of the dresses - an old silk one from the 50’s. Love it!


Looking though your work from he 80’s, and 90’s until now; you have a strong focus on representing women, Your work travels and explores the female, body and feminine energy. Can you tell me a bit about the piece you have hanging here?

This piece is Called Goddess of the Fifth Dimension. I had recently lowered her hanging height. I used to hang her really high as if she was a full ten-foot being. I brought her lower so I could stand eye to eye with her. When I did that something changed, and I started to feel myself moving into the piece in a new way. With a lot of these paintings, the energetic content is like a portal; so if you stand in front of it and just stare at it, breathing and relaxing - you will start to feel things happening.  You will feel feelings and see the image change and flux especially if you are just staring - focused and present.  What I like about this piece is it actually changes my perception of my potential, of what I think is possible. It changes it and upgrades it, showing me that more is possible. I sometimes talk to my paintings as if they are actual beings that are alive. They actually are. They are just not physical the same way. I do feel like when you look into their eyes - I’ve got a thing with eyes - when you look in... you see that aliveness and can connect to the frequency coming from them.


Why are some of the paintings done with their eyes closed,

what is the meaning of that?

The inner space is really important to me, the feeling on the inside. When you close your eyes you are shutting down this large mechanism of this hologram and you are going inside. When you are going inside, you are hearing noise and maybe smelling or touching but suddenly your feeling is the inside of yourself. When you feel inside of yourself that is where you actually ground yourself and come home to yourself. You realize you can create from here *points to her heart*. When your eyes are open you get a lot of influences, when the eyes are closed you can balance everything and centre. When you open your eyes it is like you are moving motion and creation. Rather than just accepting stuff that is coming at you. Our social media, phones and computers have gotten us into believing that that is what we need to do. Just consume what comes at us. Sometimes we need to stop that consumption and shift the direction of our creative energy. 


I’d like to come back to what you said in the beginning. “My eyes need to see colour”. When I am in a place like this where there is so much colour and texture - with the layering of paintings and rugs and plants and everything - I don’t want to close my eyes. I just want to look around and almost vibrate with taking in all of the… When I go outside I can close my eyes, but when there is so much to look at and be excited by - I don’t want to look away. 

There is also energy and love in here. These pieces are calibrated to energetic loving and loving in general. Nature is the foundation of what we are as human beings. Underneath all of our misperceptions and misconceptions of hate and fear and drudgery and boredom is loving. If you close your eyes you can tune into that. You can also do it with eyes open if you can focus within. Likewise, a place, a painting, a moment where you feel like love is coming back to you as a reflection is a beautiful feeling. Though it is just a reflection of you and the loving you are cycling into your awareness. You are changing what is going to happen to you next. I just think loving and being is the same frequency. I don’t think it’s separated, we have different words for our experiences. When I am fully being I can be making music, I can be walking, I can be making love with somebody, I can be cooking, I can be cleaning, I can be with my children, I am just being. Being is more important than what I am doing. And being is not thinking.


Maybe the words were separated so that we have an excuse to consume. 

*Laughs* Yeah and be controlled, it’s really a control game. 


If it’s true then the moments when you are in the zone and doing something where the time flies. Those moments when you are in love with yourself, in love with the world and what you are doing, everything around you…

That's the key, you just said the key. You are in love with yourself. Nobody can do that for us, nobody can love us. We can only love ourselves and someone else the same amount we love ourselves, And somebody can only love us the way they can be with themselves. It’s a special thing when people get together and their beings harmonize. That is why we love to be with people who bring out the best in us and we can bring it out in them. It becomes a unified field.  Connecting to each other no matter how different we are, gives us the potential to really see what’s possible in this reality and expand it. 

Interview and photographyby Alexis Venerus

See more of Darinka's work at

Follow Darinka @artdarinka

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