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Ann Arbor Artist Draws From Challenging Life Experiences To Create Works Of Love & Compassion

Douglas Madaras

As an artist and an award winning architectural designer, Douglas Madaras of Ann Arbor says love is what inspires his work and gives him the strength to move forward while facing many of life’s challenges.

He talks with WEMU’s Lisa Barry about his love-centric art and how he taps into a greater sense of purpose in the work he does and in his many different artistic expressions.


Lisa Barry: [00:00:00] Do you ever stop to think, while taking in some art or in an artistic setting, what inspires the artist who created it and what they might hope you see, think, or feel when you're looking at it? This is Lisa Barry, and there's an Ann Arbor artist and architectural designer who puts a lot of thought and personal experience into his work, focused primarily on one basic concept: love. And he joins us now on 89-1 WEMU to tell us more about that. Welcome, Douglas Madaras.

Douglas Madaras: [00:00:29] Hi, Lisa. Thank you for having me.

Credit Douglas Madaras
Wood Art by Douglas Madaras

Lisa Barry: [00:00:31] You are a self-described maker of love-centric art, and we can see your work all over the Ann Arbor area from the University of Michigan Hospital to Misty Farm in the Valley historic barns on Scio Church Road. And you also work with a lot of recycled items, wood, and metals. Yet as hard as those materials may seem, I feel like there's a lot of emotion in what you create. Where does that come from?

Douglas Madaras: [00:00:55] I've always wondered what my purpose is in life and amidst all the challenges we face in the world and that I have faith personally. You know, the question is, "What can I do to better serve my needs and that of the world?" And what comes from that is my work. That's the true essence of my work.

Lisa Barry: [00:01:22] You're a self-taught artist and a prize-winning architectural designer, formerly an Army crash rescue firefighter. How does one make that transition to a love-focused artist?

Douglas Madaras: [00:01:34] Well, there is a lot of experiences with that past that shakes one up to a core level. And between that and my wife and issues there, it pretty much unfolds.

Lisa Barry: [00:01:54] So, you mentioned your wife, and I understand she's had some serious health conditions for quite some time now. Share only what you're comfortable with, but can you tell us how that has impacted you and your work?

Douglas Madaras: [00:02:06] My wife thrives amidst complications of systemic lupus, and there's a lot--there's brain and kidney involvement and so forth. And so, our day-to-day life is quite interesting because we pretty much live on the edge of the illness and also the moments when the illness is not as prevalent.

Lisa Barry: [00:02:33] I always think there's a lesson in everything. So, it sounds like you're saying you've learned some lessons from dealing with that?

Douglas Madaras: [00:02:41] There's many lessons that come from the health-related experiences and the severity of the experiences, really, that put us on the threshold between life and death and being at that intersection. What is of most value to our experiences is what comes to mind. And so, I pull from that experience of being in that moment of being in a moment of emptiness. Life. Death. What do I do with the moment? What's the best route for me to take to overcome this situation? And what can I draw upon that will give me the strength. And love is always the answer.

Lisa Barry: [00:03:42] And so, you've taken that energy and put it into creating works of love. They literally say love and compassion. And you have a lot of heart-centric things. You make what you call altars, which are kind of like mirrors with shelves. And is that how the flow has worked for you? You take the pain, you take the struggle and you put it into creation?

Douglas Madaras: [00:04:05] I do. The only way that I've really been able to get through the challenges is to tap into a greater sense of purpose. And I understand life has been a lesson and that we go through experiences in a sense that near us for who we are and gives us a chance to look at ourselves and see our purpose, at least in my perspective, or we can see a better part of ourselves that we can focus on and hopefully expand.

Lisa Barry: [00:04:49] I saw, at one point, your wife Angela was in hospice care. She wrote about that for Crazy Wisdom Journal, and she mentioned being ill for several months. And then I know you've had some other serious struggles with her health and yet tells a story about you taking this pain and making joy stickers and merchandise out of that.

Credit Douglas Madaras
'Create Joy Now' merchandise

Douglas Madaras: [00:05:11] Yes, we're at a significant turning point in her health, and we were emoting--going through the emotions of the sorrow and the pain of of facing this possible transition and the tears and of pain and sorrow shifted. Oh, and really inquiring, you know, what is, you know, what can we pull from this experience, or what is the best thing that we can do to deal with this moment in time? And the tears of sorrow and pain turned into tears of laughter. We just start laughing and, at that moment, realizing that the best thing that we could do in that instance is to find joy in it, to create joy now in the moment. And so, I took that quite literally, as I do as an artist, and created stickers that said "Create Joy Now" and had a number of different variations. And so, with each hospital stay, we would take her on a tour in the wheelchair, and we would set out these stickers in hopes that somebody would be able to get something from them or share them. So, it was a good release and knowing that something good could come out of our efforts.

Lisa Barry: [00:06:52] So here are these historic barns: Misty farm in the Valley at Fruitage Farms in Ann Arbor. And you've been hired to refurbish them. What was your intention or sense of what would happen there after you finished your work?

Credit Douglas Madaras
Archway by Douglas Madaras


Douglas Madaras: [00:07:06] Well, I certainly love the old agricultural architecture, and that's with all my work. My intention is to really infuse my work with the sense of love and awe and be in wedding venues as the barns are. I knew that this would be the space to be love-centric in themselves. So, it's really easy to infuse the spaces with my intentions and now we're doing it with art.

Lisa Barry: [00:07:49] I don't think you have to be going to a wedding there to feel the love in the building, and, for me, I'm like, "it's an old barn." And it's palpable, though--this essence of love. And you helped create that. Was that your direct intention where you thinking as you're, I don't know, hammering or sawing or whatever it is you're doing to restore this barn, that one hammer love, or how does that work for you?

Douglas Madaras: [00:08:12] Well, I do create with that intention, and it really is a reflection of something I learned long ago up in the reservations of Arizona. And I was watching a jewelry maker--Native American--making jewelry. And, with each bead, she would place...there was a prayer or intention sent out. And I realized that, "Oh, I can do the same with with every tool, every material, every aspect of my work." And I continued that to this day.

Credit Douglas Madaras
Archway by Douglas Madaras


Lisa Barry: [00:08:53] How do you sustain this? I mean, I haven't wanted to intrude on your personal life too much and really dig in to what you and your wife have been going through, but, obviously, some serious health struggles. And yet ,you sound so calm and focused on love. How do you sustain that?

Douglas Madaras: [00:09:10] I sustained love by expressing love and in all that I do creatively, and I know for myself and for my wife and I that love is the true essence of all beings. And we come to a point where we face life and death scenarios. And, ultimately, we are we want to be loved and who we want to love. And so, with that realization, it just simplifies life in the sense that if love is all that really is, then the complexities of life can really be narrowed down to that essence. It just makes things makes life easier to deal with as we work with love being in the forefront of our intention.

Lisa Barry: [00:10:13] And we've talked a lot about emotion and health struggles, but Douglas Madaras's work is beautiful and we will put links to that with this interview on our website, WEMU dot org, so you can see for yourself. Best of luck to you. Best of health to your wife. And thank you so much for talking to us here on eighty nine one WEMU.

Douglas Madaras: [00:10:31] Thank you so much for your time and for your work.

Credit Douglas Madaras
Douglas and Angela Madaras


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— Lisa Barry is the host of All Things Considered on WEMU. You can contact Lisa at 734.487.3363, on Twitter @LisaWEMU, or email her at lbarryma@emich.edu

Lisa Barry was a reporter, and host of All Things Considered on 89.1 WEMU.
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