Some paintings

June 13, 2005 at 11:24 pm | In yulelogStories | 10 Comments

The other day, we took ourselves out for a treat at Zambri’s to celebrate some finished exams. After a while, I noticed the display of paintings on the walls, all by Diana Dean, a local (Saltspring Island) painter. As someone who has received enough innoculation (via theory) against liking representational paintings, I usually give “realistic” pictures short shrift, but Dean’s work struck me as instantly compelling. I’m still not sure if I’m just losing my grip, or if they really are not just exceptionally different, but also exceptionally good. I’m putting three of her paintings on the blog (hope she doesn’t mind); to see more of her work, visit her website and click on the thumbnails.

First, there’s Still Life with Eggplant, which plays with spatial relations in a mind-bending way:

And there’s Lake Picnic, from Dean’s “recent” list.

This one comes close to driving me away with its overt references to the Holy Family (and St. John the Baptist hovering in the background), which make it feel too “sweet” for my taste. On the other hand, I might feel differently if faced with the real painting, for the paintings don’t come across as well in reproduction on the computer screen. It also seems to me that Zambri’s had work on the walls which I can’t find on Dean’s website, so it might be the case that I saw really recent work which just isn’t up yet. The paintings I saw last week rivetted me with their geometry and intriguing handling of pictorial space, which gave all the work a plasticity and presence I usually associate with architecture or sculpture. That heft is palpable in the still life (above), which reworks early Cézanne beautifully, all while winking and nodding at art history as it plays with the “signifiers.” [Hint: note the way the chair-back on the left is cut off to echo the picture frame; the frame (within a frame) of the picture seen at the very top of the painting, which reinforces the rectangular shape of Still Life‘s frame; the table legs mirroring the chair leg, in turn reiterating the verticals of the painting’s frame; and then the diagonals flattened into that pictorial space, diagonals emphasised via the landscape painting-within-the-painting on the right and the diagonals of table-cloth stripes, floor, and rug.] In Lake Picnic (also above), I’m impressed by Dean’s ability to take a time-worn iconography and translate it into a local setting: that’s clearly recognisable BC coastal scenery, right down to the orange trunks of Arbutus menziesii (or Madrona) trees.

Here’s one more (a detail, according to the website), called The Serving Woman, which conveys the architectural plasticity that grabbed my attention at the restaurant:

The woman has the solidity of an ancient column, her arms and her uniform provides the doric fluting, her cap the simple doric capital. Yet, very uncolumn-like, she leans toward the table, …to blow out the candle?, to get close to the sword-like leaves of the plant set in an urn? Behind that deracinated plant we see a landscape — “real” or “painted”? Everything is set into a strict geometry, as though trying to teach us to see. Quite wonderful, in a “primitive” sort of way — and I mean “primitive” in the way the early Italian Renaissance painters, conquering geometric perspective, were. Masaccio comes to mind, here and here. Like the Italians, who were not afraid of size, some of Dean’s best work is ambitiously huge, definitely not meant to hang decoratively over the sofa, but meant instead to fill a wall and hold the viewer’s attention. I like that.

10 Comments

  1. You wrote:

    “I’m still not sure if I’m just losing my grip, or if they really are not just exceptionally different.”

    If you are losing your grip, then you are not alone. I reacted very viscerally to seeing them in your blog– very compelling work.

    I have meant to say, by the way, that I enjoy your blog very much. I read a syndicated feed via livejournal, so I do not comment often.

    Comment by C Gilbert — June 14, 2005 #

  2. Compelling paintings, indeed. What I find captivating about them, aside from that geometry you pointed out, is the stillness in the foreground and the beckoning “backgrounds,” those unsettled and diffrently styled landscapes into which the horizon disappears, either through the windows or in water and islands — in landscape that seems to be more alive than the people in the froegrounds.

    I do not have an art expert’s vocabulary for explaining this, but my sense as a viewer is strangely teased by the split I see in these paintings, as well as by the shifts in color application and painitng styles in the same picture.

    Comment by maria — June 14, 2005 #

  3. That’s a great observation, Maria. It sums up a real difference between those early Italians and Dean, too.

    Thanks for leaving a comment, “frumious bandersnatch.” I just read your excellent entry on work-life balance — more North Americans should read that…! 😉

    Comment by Yule Heibel — June 14, 2005 #

  4. When Stevens said of poetry, “it must be abstract,” he did not mean that it could not represent things in the world. These paintings feel “abstract” in the way I think Stevens meant–they have the geometry of art, not of the fluctuating sensorium.

    Comment by joseph duemer — June 16, 2005 #

  5. I have a couple of Diana Dean’s paintings and find I simply enjoy looking at them. They always stay fresh.

    Harry

    Comment by Harry Collier — September 29, 2005 #

  6. I am a close friend of Diana’s and I also have a few of her paintings. LIving with her art changes my life in a small way every single day, because I discover something new, or it evokes a brand new response, or it inspires me in a way I never knew possible. I was the “curator” of the show you saw @ Zambri’s and so it also means alot to me to hear such positive feedback after the show is over. Being Italian myself, I have often felt close to the people in Diana’s paintings, they so felt like my cousins and family, and, truth be told, she is known to go home and feverishly paint her friends, their lovers or their children, into a banquet scene a musical gathering, etc etc. She is an extraordinary painter who deserves to be more wildly appreciated.

    Comment by Connie Addario — September 30, 2005 #

  7. I am a close friend of Diana’s and I also have a few of her paintings. LIving with her art changes my life in a small way every single day, because I discover something new, or it evokes a brand new response, or it inspires me in a way I never knew possible. I was the “curator” of the show you saw @ Zambri’s and so it also means alot to me to hear such positive feedback after the show is over. Being Italian myself, I have often felt close to the people in Diana’s paintings, they so felt like my cousins and family, and, truth be told, she is known to go home and feverishly paint her friends, their lovers or their children, into a banquet scene a musical gathering, etc etc. She is an extraordinary painter who deserves to be more wildly appreciated.

    Comment by Connie Addario — September 30, 2005 #

  8. Harry and Connie, thanks for stopping by. Connie, I’m so glad you curated that exhibition at Zambri’s — it was truly an eye-opener. Diana Dean’s paintings are very compelling and very different, and I hope I get to see more of her work again soon…

    Comment by Yule Heibel — October 1, 2005 #

  9. Yule: It would be worth a trip over to Diana’s studio for you to see a large collection of her work. I could arrange this for you: she would be pleased to meet you. connie

    Comment by Connie Addario — October 1, 2005 #

  10. The Loch Gallery (Nancy Poole Studios) has represented Diana Dean for over 20 years and we are thrilled to see the appreciation of her work. An article written by Anne Redpath, including many coloured and black and white images of Diana’s work, was published in Volume 20 , Number 1 of Canadian Woman Studies in spirng of 2000. For a information about this journal please visit the website http://www.yorku.ca/cwscf/writing2.html. To view any of Diana Dean’s other works please visit the Loch Gallery website at http://www.lochgallery.com/component/option,com_art/action,artist/id,113/Itemid,30/

    Comment by The Loch Gallery — October 15, 2005 #

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