Mantzaris was born in Melbourne, Australia. She grew up in a working class suburb in outer Melbourne. In the late 1970s she studied fine art (Painting) at RMIT University.
Working quite outside the drift of theoretical attitudes and trends, Diane Mantzaris is widely regarded as being one of the first, and is the first Australian artist, to use computers as a printmaking tool. Mantzaris has exhibited widely, to considerable acclaim, debate, and even on occasion opposition, in both in her native Australia and overseas.
Mantzaris began realising her imagery via computer technology during its infancy. During a period when it was the domain of the freakish few, and an almost exclusively male domain at that, Mantzaris was seriously addressing the computer's new potential for making an art that would be accessible to the masses. Her work is unconventional but not for the sake of novelty, but as a conscious artistic strategy to subvert through existing assumptions on art, culture and society. Some artists seek out a tradition which they then colonise and to which they make their own contribution. These artists we call settlers. Others, who are very few in numbers, are explorers, people who venture off and discover new paths and to map out unfamiliar terrain. Diane Mantzaris belongs to that rare breed.
The imagery in Mantzaris’ early black and white, computer-generated lithographs are both startling and confronting. With titles such as ‘the Narcissist’ and ‘Her Alter-Ego’, these works look like a cross between engravings of Sigmund Freud’s casebook and the photography of Diane Arbus. They are both different and yet unsettling in their recall of images stored in our collective memory bank. Amid the sameness of so much contemporary art Mantzaris’s computer-generated lithographs have the look of something not seen before and are especially appreciated.
The mix of computer graphics and private symbolism sponsors some unsettling images. The grainy quality of the print and the deliberate exploitation of folk idioms conveys the cosiness of a petit-point sampler, but closer observation reveals the little peasant girls to be surrounded by horrors – Madonna’s with bleeding eyes and Christ children with blazing heads. Symbolic sentiment is twisted like the roses which clamber up the torso of one heroine, beginning to ensnare and smother and reveal their true nature as electronic flex cable. It seems incongruous that the pictorial traditions of particularly devotional and martyr art should be so emphatically quoted using state of the art technology. Other works (The Sybil, The Narcissist) point to less encumbered expression. Another key to understanding the artists approach is provided by the print the ‘Fuji Mart Builder’, depicting a Japanese labourer with a drill on a building construction but posing with heroic indifference, like an action man in modern Japanese comics much loved by the artist. The split toe shoes and head band add a humorous note while the power cord whips around like a wayward umbilical cord. This is more computer-funk than angst.
Whilst Mantzaris’s practice was met with considerable opposition from printmaking traditionalists and institutions at that time, and the subject of its ‘legitimate use’ debated in forums, she also paved the way for artists that followed and computers were later adopted into art school university curricula.
In 1987 Mantzaris was granted a three-month Australia Council residency in Tokyo. In the same year she exhibited a large body of computer-generated lithographs in the solo exhibition ‘Modern Legends’ at 200 Gertrude Street Gallery, Melbourne. These works were toured in exhibitions in public and regional galleries throughout Australia, including: ‘Encounters 1', curated by Stephanie Britton, at the South Australian School of Art; ‘My Head is a Map’, curated by Roger Butler at the Australian National Gallery. The works then toured through Asia, in such exhibitions as: ‘6x6’, which was the first exhibition of prints to tour Thailand, co-ordinated by Asialink and curated Anne Kirker (now curator of Asian Art), it was later hosted at the Queensland Art Gallery.
Mantzaris returned to Tokyo in 1990, for ‘Tokyo Connection’, an exhibition of work by artists who had been awarded the Australian artists’ studio in Tokyo. Works such as the computer-generated lithograph Fuji Mart Builder (1987) were reproduced widely in the printed media.
In the late 1980s to early 1990s, when scanners had become accessible home-technology, Mantzaris began incorporating collage into her prints. In a work from this period, Beauty Queen No.14 (Cherry Blossom) (1991), depicting a Japanese man wearing a gown, the shifting layers of imagery are combined with frequent references to the act of seeing, so that the viewer is presented with numerous images depending on their vantage point; thus presenting multi-layered interpretations. The work is less a commentary on Japanese culture than an interrogation of the viewers' perceptions of love, sexuality, taboos and customs. The piece was part of a larger series of boxed constructions of layered laser-printed transparencies which were shown in part at the 1992 Adelaide Biennale of Australian Art, ‘Unfamiliar Territory’, Art Gallery of South Australia, curated by Tim Morell. Professor Jenny Zimmer wrote of these works that the optical vibration and boxed coffined images convey the private hells, dilemmas and ironies of public existence.
In 1992-93 Mantzaris was granted an Asialink residency at the Silpakorn University in Bangkok, Thailand. It was during this residency that Mantzaris made an extensive body of large thermal wax transfer prints dealing with the military repression and accounts of the crackdown witnessed first-hand during "Black May". Major works such as Dance the Backstep (Behind the smile of greed), and Slaves of State (1993) cleverly subverted the officially sanctioned view of the dynamics of Thai and Australian politics. These works have become potent social manifestos which engage with the social and political issues of Australia and its Asian neighbours on several levels. The prints which grew out of these experiences brought together her perceptions of life in Bangkok, an awareness of the heritage of protest poster art, combined with mastery of a technology-based art practice, to produce prints of a nightmarish intensity where lynching parties and institutions of culture co-exist.
In 2000, Mantzaris’ interests shifted to exhibiting outside the gallery and into public spaces. She was engaged to develop concepts for the design and manufacture of two public art works. She would envisage working class ideology on a monumental scale, across two major freeway interventions en route into and out of the western suburbs of Melbourne The project had the invested interests of 7 western councils, Victorian State Government, Vicroads, with Mantzaris working in association with BM architects. Billboard installation 'Working Class heroes' was shelved after dozens of relocations pre-construction and 4 years of meetings with local authorities, whilst being covered and supported by the art community and media. ’House in the Sky’, is: a house-sized 2D sculpture of a 3D drawing in fabricated steel, suspended across a busy freeway, the western ringroad interchange. The generic home in 2D is designed to flip out into the motorists' view on passing, before disappearing from view. At least on one level, it was conceived as a working class dream home, one which had once been achievable by many migrants who had arrived in Australia in destitute circumstances.
Mantzaris currently works from her studio in Northcote, Melbourne and she continues to work and exhibit within Australia and Asia.National Gallery of Victoria
Queensland Art Gallery
Art Gallery of South Australia
Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery
State Library of Victoria
Queen Victoria Museum & Art Gallery, Launceston
University of Tasmania
Shepparton Art Gallery
Warrnambool Art Gallery
Ballarat Fine Art Gallery
Naracoote Art Gallery, South Australia
Brisbane City Hall Art Gallery
University of Central Queensland
Queensland University of Technology
University Art Museum, Queensland
Gold Coast City Art Gallery
Flinders University Art Museum, South Australia
Gordon Technical College, Victoria
Macrobertson Girls High School, Melbourne
Ruyton Girls School, Victoria
Norwood Secondary College, Victoria
Fintona Girls College, Victoria
St Kilda Council, Victoria
Print Council of Australia
BHP Canson Australia Pty Ltd
Parliament House Collection, Canberra
The Melbourne Club
Janet Holmes à Court Collection
Corporate and Private Collections, Australia, India, Cuba, Japan, USA, Greece, Thailand.