Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Art Book Guy, Michael K. Corbin, and I Chat


Contact: Email me!     
Art Web Site:   TEXT

Michael Corbin, the Art Book Guy, has begun a chat with me about my work. The chat will culminate in an interview that will be featured on the Art Book Guy site.   Michael's site is www.artbookguy.com and features interviews with artists and much more.  Please visit his site. He has written 2 books, The Art of Everyday Joe:  A Collector's Journal and Art for The People:  A Collector's Journal.

MICHAEL: Hello Diane, Your work, especially the most recent mixed media works on your website seem almost allegorical.  I see strong narrative and perhaps some symbols with strong emphasis on female subjects.  What's the story here?

The Teacher, Marina Semynova 1, 2, 3
Hi Michael, thanks so much for taking an interest in my work.   You have asked a wonderful first question with many pertinent facets that pertain to my work.  To preface, I am very interested in the complex qualities of humanity that help create our stories and lives such as hope, compassion, kindness, wonder, passion, honesty, fear, doubt, compulsion, discipline, and perseverance to name a few.  Ideas may come from a moment in time that I glimpse, a personal connection to my own history, a story I need to explore, an idea that "tugs" at me, powerful imagery or specific events.   I never quite know what will "appear" as suitable topic, but my curiosity and intuition take me to many sources.   As our world becomes more technological (which allows us to communicate more often with others but in a less intimate manner) I find myself seeking more humane and complex interactions and explanations.   The "hurriedness" and shorthand of the technological world often deletes nuance, character, and complexity.   Those are the qualities I attempt to include in my work. 

Children in Peril Series

The beginnings of my interest in stories that often emerge as a  "fragmented narrative" state, started with my  "Children In Peril" that was developed within a nine-year period (1997-2006).  The work revolved around the story of Lisa Steinberg, the abused, illegally adopted and murdered child of Joel Steinberg and Hedda Nussbaum.  The story made national news but I was stunned by the front page New York Post image of Lisa smiling at the viewer.  Her face stole my heart and the work began and culminated in three series "The Lisa Series", "The Nightmare Series", and "The Throw-A-Ways".   I was living in Hoboken, NJ at the time.  Opening my thoughts, passions, and empathy to the world in the work began a manner of working that allowed me to act, react, explore stories and investigate my thoughts and feelings about issues and subjects. It was during this period that I began to use symbol, metaphor, and less literal signifiers in context to develop a visual poetry which you have described as allegory to my viewers.

Publicity Photo for The Eglevsky Ballet Company, Me on the right

The story of the new mixed-media works comes from my curiosity and perseverance of images of Russian ballerina, Marina Semynova, after reading an obituary in The New York Times about her death at 102.   My connection to Marina comes from my own history as a dancer in New York.  My fascination with Russia began with my grandfather (who was born in Russia/Poland, depending on which country claimed his village) who told me many times that one of our relatives was a painter/poet in the court of the last Russian Tsar.  I was fascinated with the culture of Russia as a child and later collected a serious collection of books on Russian dance.  I grew up in and around New York City.  Art was always important and my grandmother took me to the museums when I began to walk so I was very affected by art at an early age.  But my love of ballet began at age 8 when I begged for lessons after accompanying a friend to ballet school.  By the time I was 11, my mother had enrolled me in the Andre Eglevsky Ballet School on Long Island.  Andre Eglevsky was a Russian dancer who had starred in The Russe de Monte Carlo in Europe and The New York City Ballet with George Balanchine.  Within 2 years I was in The Andre Eglevsky Ballet Company dancing on stage.  I was also enrolled every summer at The School of American Ballet, The New York City Ballet's feeder school in Manhattan.  Many of my teachers were ex-Russian dancers from the Bolshoi.  Andre used to host the Bolshoi Ballet at his home when they came to America.  It was the era of the Cold War and it was such a privilege to be able to see the Russian dancers in NYC.  My Russian teachers left a large impression on my life because they were so passionate, heartfelt, focused and honest about the art of ballet and teaching.  I left ballet at 16 because my body could not take the physical rigors and turned back to fine art, but my love of dance has never ended.  

Your question about an emphasis of female subjects in my work began with my experiences as a dancer.  The dance world was one of limited arenas that demonstrated the strength and power of women in the arts as both teachers and artists.  I remember sitting at my desk in my room at home on Long Island as a teen, wondering why the history of art included very few great women artists to model and emulate.   My later years as an art student and artist found the world to be very steeped in patriarchal power with little room for female endeavors and spirit.   Therefore my intuitive choice to use the female figure as a symbol of artistry, strength, and learning redirects the balance of my early inquiries and gaps of information about the female as a strong artistic figure.  

Marina Semyonova Teaching in Russia

When I read Marina Semynova's obituary in the NYT's I was intrigued and curious about her life.  I googled her name and found old films of her dancing and teaching on U-Tube, but could not download the film until further inquires to a computer savvy person told me about software (from Iceland of all places) that would allow access.  I bought the software, downloaded all the films I could find into I-Movie.  Watching the films gave me that "tingle" of excitement that precedes the beginning of new work.   What interested me greatly was Marina in her 60's or 70's teaching a solo from "The Black Swan" to a young dancer in a bare dance studio in Russia.  The music, the choreography, the atmosphere of the dance studio felt so familiar and eerie as I was looking "down time" to another era (50's or 60's).   My subject was before me - the aging teacher who had been the dancer and remained the dancer in her frumpy black dress and pumps moving exquisitely through space as she demonstrated various steps and sequences. She had great respect from her student and showed an empathetic willingness to pass on her art to the younger generation.   I watched the film many times as I decided which positions would be dynamic on the page.  Learning how to move the frames from I-Movie to I-Tunes to Quick-time and finally Photoshop for printing was a large learning curve and often I just worked from the computer in my studio on stop-gap.  

I had been working in encaustic for the last 10 years, but found that the medium was not allowing me enough freedom to explore my ideas fully.   I decided to work with acrylic grounds and mediums, which would allow me to build up the surface with pigment, pastel, graphite, marker, and other media.  I chose to use heavy paper, (50"x38") and hang the work like a rug hanging with a rod in the back.  I created pockets sewing heavy 3" ribbon on the top back area of the paper and inserted thin flat metal strips that could hang the pieces.  The task I set up for the work was to place three figures of Marina on each paper that composed a moment of movement.   Color has always been an element of wonder and enchantment for me and as the piece developed, the color became a vivid part of the environment and atmosphere, reflecting light and motion.  As I worked I realized I needed to add the element of pattern to move around and into each piece to integrate space and figure. The patterning became an important element and signifier of the magic of the theater backdrops, lighting, and textural costumes.   I began to spray paint through all types of lace and material to create repeated design.  Pattern also reminded me of the attire of my Russian teachers who each had their own style of dressing for class.   The 3 pieces were worked over a period of almost 2 years.  My final presentation of the work removed the rod as a hanging device and adhered the paper pieces to Plexiglas with a 2-inch area around the drawing as frame. On the back of the clear frame area are glued 2 layers of delicate material that appear to create a soft floating frame.  

Final edging with Plexi-Glass and Material Underlay

I was fascinated and interested that you attached the word allegory to my work.  I had not thought of the pieces in those terms and I feel you have given me an interesting angle to consider as I assess the work.  Researching the word allegory on Wikipedia I found allegory is described as "a device used to present an idea, principle or meaning, which can be presented in literary form, such as a poem or novel, in musical form, such as composition or lyric, or in visual form, such as in painting or drawing ......... As an artistic device, an allegory is a visual symbolic representation."  Marina is the visual symbol for me of a strong, vibrant, artist and teacher who lived a life of art and sharing of art.   How great is that??  

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Shadows and Challenges

Shadow Body in Garden in June

                         Contact: Email me!     Art Web Site:   TEXT

Walked into my garden this morning with my camera.  The air was fresh and clear
with the scent of hollyhocks. I began shooting pictures and noticed how vibrant my
shadow appeared in the shots. The images led me to "place" the shadow in various
areas of my garden, snapping away as the combination of plant life and dark,
flat human form intermingled.  I was intrigued with the mix.  My mind has been stuck
in the shadows as I have struggled to accept my mothers death and live my life without
her.  This and other challenges, the last couple of weeks, have sent me out to work in the
garden to feel peace and physical life. The appearance of the shadows in the garden
was a wonderful surprise that gave pictorial form to my feelings and reminded me
how artists use the visual to clarify and define their world. 

Many Shadows
Two of the "incidents" that "shook up" my week involved animals and art education.  Ziggy
Starman's new farrier came to trim his feet and actually "butchered" all four hooves.  Zigs
feet were trimmed too short and uneven.  Think about how it would feel if someone
clipped all 10 toenails really really short. Lots of pain!!  The next day Zigs was barely able
to walk.  I was frantic and a kind neighbor came over to help.  She asked me if I had any
horse boots  and I remembered I had a pair of Easy Boots in the tack room. We placed
them on his feet.  He "dinked" around in them for a while, but quickly became acclimated.

My next problem was finding a capable farrier to assess the damage to my horse's hooves.
On-line I went and discovered Claudia, a barefoot trimmer and Natural Horsemanship
Trainer.  I called her at 10:30 that evening thinking I would leave a desperate message.  She
picked up the phone and we spoke for an hour.  A few days later she was evaluating Ziggy's
feet and placing on new boots that were a better fit.  He immediately began to walk well
with the new footwear.  The older boots were too small and created some cuts on his
heel ball (not a good situation) and now I had a second problem to address. The next day
Claudia called and  instructed me to wrap his hooves with vet wrap to protect the hoof ball
and then place his new shoes back on his feet.  It had been years since I had to
wrap Ziggy's feet and I knew that one should never wrap too tight or too loose.  There is
a definite "art" to hoof wrapping and I went about the task with some trepidation.  Vet wrap
is a thin flexible stretchy material that clings to itself as one wraps.  Mine was old and very
sticky (think fly paper) and my fingers were not obeying brain signals.  After 3 "variations"
of wrapping and taking shoes on and off, I conquered my humiliation and called my
neighbor again.  She demonstrated how to apply the vet wrap firmly and neatly.   On went
the shoes for the 4th time that day and I felt a great relief.  Living with a horse is a very
humbling experience and large learning curve - which I tell myself everyday. 

New boots

My other rather stressful and disastrous  experience happened during an interview for
an art teaching position that involved a duel credit course in a terrific charter school.
I had been looking forward to teaching in this school for a long time and had subbed
and taught a workshop for them during the last few years.  The staff and administration
at the school are lively, progressive, and very attentive to their students.  My difficulty
involved an interview at a 2 year college that would administer the college credits
to the high schoolers.  I had to be approved by this school for the teaching position.
My original interview was rescheduled for a later date and I was told one other person
(a full-time art instructor), with whom I was an acquaintance, would be at the interview.
I was asked to bring student artwork and present my own work at that time.  No other in-
formation was given to me concerning the interview.  I assumed, then, that it would be
rather informal.

I was almost late to the interview since I had great trouble finding the correct building
(on the not well- marked campus) and the building name was not formally given in the
E-Mail directions.  Arriving in the correct office by sheer will power, I was relieved
the Dean was in a meeting and would see me in a few minutes. That gave me some time
to compose myself after my "run around" the campus and worry about time.

As I was ushered into the conference room, I was surprised to see 4 people sitting around
the table.  I took my seat at the head and was told that each person would be asking me
questions.  I was not asked to talk freely and found myself sitting in a very formal panel
group with a very specific agenda and set of questions.   As the questioning began I looked
out onto very stony faces.  My answers and manner of speaking and thinking were not met
with satisfaction as the interviewer continued to "hammer" at me to be more specific about
outcomes and details. 

I have been in many interviews  both formal and less formal and understood that I was
being asked to use a particular language that I call "education speak" that was developed
during the "No Child Left Behind" debacle.  What the group wanted to hear was was an
echo of the very specific words they were programed to use to describe how one would
go about teaching an introductory art course.  I smiled and remained cordial. I spoke and
spoke, and talked about learning process and series of tasks each student must master for
explicit art problems. My language was my own and more nuanced and came directly
from all my many many experiences and years of teaching art in a variety of venues.  No
one heard my explanations because they were listening for the correct educational "buzz

Rather abruptly, the Dean asked to see my student work which was projected on a screen
from a computer.  Each piece of work was listed under a class title such as Drawing I,
Painting I etc.  There seemed to be some confusion about the headings since I was asked
which courses were introductory.  I gave class assignment and media information about
each piece of art work.  The work was very solid and strong and I was proud of how my
students executed the assignments.  Not a word was mentioned about the high quality of
work.  I was asked to show examples of linear perspective and I had some wonderful land-
scape paintings from Painting I that exhibited deep perspective space. The panel wanted
to see perspective drawing and  I made the point that I was not told to bring specific
assignments and did not have them in the large number and variety of work I had put on
the disk.  I have over 20 years of student work and I picked and chose some of the best
examples to present. 

When I walked out the door of the conference room, I was relieved to be free of the
pounding dissatisfaction and unpleasant atmosphere of the room.   I was taught by my
mentor, Dr. Phyliss Kuffler at Rhode Island School of Design, that the most important
aspect of teaching was the communication and trust one sets up with  the students  from
the initial meeting.  Learning would then follow.  Dr. Kuffler was a gracious, warm, and
giving teacher who demanded the best from her students.  Through years of teaching
and discussions with my colleagues I discovered there are many styles of teaching.
Each instructor develops their own methodology as they tackle subject matter.  I
teach with humor, passion, and knowledge and believe the passing on of information is
a complex and personal experience that comes from a teacher's need to help, inform,
and desire success for their students.  As an artist I am constantly reading, exploring
and making work in my studio. My own experiences with my process of working
filter into my teaching.  Dr. Kuffler taught me that the best teachers are also continual

Needless to say,  I received an E-Mail during the next few days that thanked me for my
time and commented "While you clearly have many strengths, you did not meet a couple
of critical requirements for hiring for our part-time pool.  One of the aspects we evaluate
when we interview for our  pool (is) the ability to clearly articulate the fundamental
principles/learning outcomes for introductory courses.  Additionally, these articulated
outcomes should be linked to the content emphases and teaching approaches in our
introductory courses.  At this time, we are unable to approve you to teach ......."  I was
not surprised but sad that teachers of art today are required (in many institutions) to
teach from rigid scripted notions of educational talking points rather than their
own very valuable and knowledgeable experiences.

As I look forward to other types of work and challenges, I feel fierce about my earned
experiences and look forward to new venues for my art and knowledge.  The shadows
are a wonderful surprise and articulation for me of how artists continue to use instinct
and wonder to traverse the world. 

Continuing On With My Life