Marianne Cara in Conversation with Noella Lopez

Marianne Cara in Conversation with Noella Lopez

Marianne’s oil paintings are gorgeous. The brush strokes are bold and fluid, the colour palette is rich and the choices Cara makes are very personal, close to her heart. She prefers working with small size artworks, they convey well the stories she likes to confide in. At a guess and knowing where she is at with her practice, I imagine that any representations of the landscapes and her family stories will be different in the future, maybe not even expressed in the oil paint medium. Her practice is evolving and these artworks are a snapshot of that moment in time.

Cara’s Italian background has a strong influence on her painting, she paints portraits and landscapes that delicately blend Calabrian village scenes with backyard Australiana drawing together different aspects of both heritages. She is inspired by the stories past and present of her Italian family and collects a combination of old family and childhood photographs often integrating them into her artworks.


  1. Your passion for art started in your childhood inspired by your uncle’s generosity and knowledge about Renaissance artists. How has your passion for art and practice evolved over your career as an artist?

I have been making art ever since I was a child - it has always been my passion, my first basic instinct. I started to take it truly seriously when I enrolled in a BFA at The National Art School. I was amongst great emerging artists and teachers who fostered my pursuits and gave me all the material I needed.  It was an immensely inspirational time. I started to explore family history and traditions and became interested in the people and stories behind the black and white family portraits.

After three years of art making, I really began to visualise the body of work I wanted to create. It looked so good in my mind, that it drove me further and deeper.  I incorporated autobiographical elements into my paintings. A simple black and white photograph as narrative collaged onto the canvas and then painted over and around to create special stories about life in Australia and my parents’ homeland in Italy.  The continuing layers created in the paintings encapsulate the emotional journeys revealing inner layers of personal identity.

My interest in landscape painting was borne from my own journey to Italy.  Working on the land has been an important aspect of my family’s previous life in Calabria; a tradition that they carried through to life in Australia and the suburbs. So returning to Italy as an artist, I have now emerged as an abstract expressionist landscape painter.  I think my work will always keep evolving and I have currently found a unique voice in painting many beautiful portraits in both the landscapes of Italy and Australia.


  1. With ‘Connections’ you used family images-photographs from the past to inspire your paintings. Can you tell us how this process came about and how this approach allowed you to articulate these stories?

Sifting through the many black and white photographs from the past – my parents’ family photos from Italy and ours as children, I became very interested in exploring themes involving the family history and connecting with unknown faces.  With this in mind, I created the Connections oil painting series.

I painted family members in Italy whom I had not met – clusters of people, together as friends, connected and bonding together in a strangely familiar way.  When my parents migrated to Australia from Italy in the 1950’s, family became even more important to them as in their isolation they gained strength from ‘being together’.  Groups of family and friends supported each other in an unfamiliar and uncertain existence, both in Italy and then Australia. 

Observing the many old family photos, I was inspired by the “closeness, love and boldness” through struggle, which drove their migration to new beginnings. Articulation of the migration stories was and is expressed through interpretations of the past, present and future.  By tracing the history of the groups and their connections to homeland through chain migration networks, I paint my family and relatives as vague faceless figures in abstract settings, not wanting to place them in any one human context as they are universal representations and could be a snapshot of any family story. 


  1. As part of your practice, you enjoy drawing, printmaking and oil painting and have worked seamlessly across these mediums. What is it that so excite you specifically about oil painting though?

I started painting in acrylics many years ago but got frustrated with the flatness of this medium.  I have also painted with egg tempera whilst studying fresco in Italy; however, this technique requires fast painting as it dries incredibly quickly. 

For my practice, I enjoy the flexibility and possibility that oil paints give me - the richness of the colours and the transparency I can achieve. The oil paints stay wet for a while giving me the flexibility to start a painting and then come back to it the next day.

Oil painting is a responsive and intuitive process as its characteristics of richness, consistency, smell and texture give me the opportunity and adaptability to represent many layered interpretations of my portraits in the landscape.  Specifically, the richness of colour is intense and beautiful and helps achieve the richest darks whilst also exploring the effects of transparent glazes. 

In my experience, the excitement of using thick, luscious strokes and dabs of oil paint with a brush or palette knife is unparalleled to any other medium - its further appeal being its translucence, sheen and thickness can all be adjusted to suit my requirements.


  1. Following on from these bodies of works what is your next step? Tell us more about your next explorations, your interests and inspirations and what you are currently working on.

My past works have been intimate pictures of family landscapes and portraits – whilst exploring this theme I have slowly introduced my family landscapes to the world.  I would like to commence work on larger paintings within the environment, return to Italy to explore more of my father and mother’s history and to live and study in Florence.

I am currently studying my father’s beautiful organic inspired ironwork designs completed as a young blacksmith. I would have loved to have had conversations with him about his art inspirations.  My mother and her constant supply of stories from Calabria in southern Italy is another source of inspiration for me.  I am in the process of interviewing her and documenting her many stories from the past, so that I can piece together our family history. 

Calabria, beside its ancient history, is also known for its flourishing arts and crafts and more specifically woodwork with the woven-straw chairs.  To this day, the chair makers continue to construct chairs as in old times – a frame made of wood, to which the women expertly apply the woven straw seats utilising a local special bush, coming from the plants in the marshlands.  One of these women was my mother!

My intention is to reinvent part of this dying tradition in collaborating with my mother and her memories of ‘how to weave the straw seats’ – a sort of memory project.  Constantly attempting to remember what was and what is now not.  I am collecting information on this process and exploring with many drawings and prints. I hope to create an installation soon relating to this research.

Marianne Cara 2014



Connections 6 - Oil Painting - Connections Series -


Connections 4 - Oil Painting - Connections Series -

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