Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Art Space Talk: Diana Folsom

I recently interviewed artist Diana Folsom. Diana works at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and has been interviewed three times by Molly Barnes on Dateline USA. She has also been interviewed by several radio personalities. Diana creates paintings that deal with water and the female figure.

Water is a universal symbol of life, abundance and the female in many myths and countries. Flowing water is a classic metaphor for life's journey- life begins and travels through a woman's body. Diana captures this essence within the context of her work. The body encloses a river of processes - it is a microcosm of the way the earth works. Both body and earth breathe, grow, and erode.

Together with a metaphor of river, Diana's works emphasize the textural use of materials. While studying her own aerial photographs or those from satellites, she utilizes the actions of paint on canvas to emulate the earth's biology and map a painterly terrain.

In her opinion, The Woman as River series examines water moving through terrain, linking the human body and the earth, giving earthly form to spiritual elements.

Q. When did you first discover that art would be an important part of your adult life?

A. "I was inspired to become an artist when I was 14 years old. It was a very romantic, idealistic notion which struck me during an art history class. The idea came like gentle lightening. I didn't really know what it meant or how to have an artist's life and wondered if I could be "good enough" - but felt quietly determined."

Q. How has society influenced your art? Are there any social implications in your art?

A. "My paintings are not directly involved with social issues, but have a relationship with feminism and incorporate a distant perspective influenced by space travel and the Hubble telescope images. Since I had a male professor in undergraduate school who discouraged women from serious painting study, it made me more determined to be an artist and to organize my life around this challenge. I have wrestled with the issues of work and personal roles to find my balance within the identity struggles of my generation. The recent series I call "Woman as River" has this sense of finding my place in the world."

Q. On average, how long does it take you to create a piece?
A. "It usually takes about three months to finish a painting and I work on several paintings at the same time. I move back and forth between them to avoid getting too stiff or overworked. Each one grows slowly because my technique incorporates many thick, wet layers of paint or other media and each layer takes a day or two to dry. The layers are usually poured onto the canvas or wood and because I mix each layer with a matte resin which is milky when wet, I don't usually know exactly how the layer will look until the next day after it dries."

Q. Can you share some of your philosophy about art and artistic creation?

A. "I enjoy the wide range of art philosophies in the art world today, yet I am still most interested in the simple act of painting. I feel close to feminist issues ideologically, but have mostly explored the workings of color and abstraction to convey my mystical yearnings. Early influences include the abstract expressionists and color field painters and notions about chance. The work of Joan Snyder has always been very important to me, because of her gutsy paint-handling and the personally expressive elements she brings to painting.

To be an artist is to travel a spiritual path. Through the physical process of working on art, we discover, or maybe excavate, our individual perspective – and "find our voice". My journey has been fairly introspective and I have tended to be a loner since graduate school, but since moving to Los Angeles I have gotten more involved with other artists through critique groups. My work has gotten stronger as a result of constructive conversations and musings with other artists.

Last October I spent a month-long artist residency at the Vermont Studio Center with 50 other artists and writers from around the world. This was the ultimate in positive experiences – where the cross-talk of practical suggestions to soaring ideas brought influences that were wide and deep.

This myartspace website is a wonderful place to share wide-ranging artistic viewpoints. I hope it will become a constructive forum between artists."

Q. Discuss one of your pieces.What were you thinking when you created it?
A. "Most every effort to show work is important, because it helps us see our work differently - perhaps with a little more understanding of what we are trying to say and what is getting across to the viewer. We are enabled to see our work a little more objectively.

A most interesting recent exhibition was a show I did in 2004 with William Matthews called "As Dreams are Made On – two artists respond to the work of Shakespeare". It was a wonderful, surprising experience for me. The gallerist, Lois Lambert, had been encouraging William to think about his artistic responses to the writings of Shakespeare, since he usually creates artworks that relate to written material, such as the poems of Pablo Neruda. Later she suggested that I might also want to participate. I was skeptical, having never worked this way before, but such incentive helped me explore the writings of Shakespeare from a new perspective – to look at what strikes me as personally relevant and how that would translate into my painting vocabulary.

I responded to a few overarching themes found throughout the writings: the human struggle with will, desire and power and how that develops in the cycles of life; the poetic elements of stars and flowers; the women. The resulting paintings I made were mainly diptychs and triptychs which played with words and materials.

The human struggle idea manifested itself in play with the words found in William: Will I Am, I Am Will, I Am (images below)- connected with different parts of the human life cycle. The perspective is from the sky looking down on earth - on a seashore with water washing over words in the sand and other marks left by human activity. The early stages of life ( Will I Am) are confident times, confident in our will to succeed; the middle stages (when the plot thickens and difficulties abound – I Am Will ) become more turbulent and event-filled and we wrestle for control; and in the later stages, our human will begins to wash away as we become more aware that we are integrated with the Universe and life force (God) – so the only words left are " I am" which are also ancient words for God.

The garden and sky metaphors helped me push one of my childhood (Grade 5) ideas further: flowers on earth being like stars in the sky. Further influenced by the Hubble images of stars, it occurred to me that dying stars look like flowers blooming, and that my mystical beliefs tend to flow with that direction of thought, especially since the elements dispersed by stars are later swept up to create new stars. So I experimented with making stars that look like flowers, and flowers that look like stars – usually as part of a triptych (image below) with other elements of earth, air, wind.

I would like all of my paintings to feel as if earth processes just naturally made them – some work more fluidly and naturally than others. Here's an example of one that worked fairly naturally (image below).

Q. Do you have any 'studio rituals'? As in, do you listen to certain types of music while working? What helps to get you in the mood for working?

A. "In addition to playing all sorts of music, from energizing to quiet – I like to play a video about Chuck Close over and over. It has a peaceful daily rhythm of painting, with quite a bit of footage of him painting, as well as talking with other artist friends. It feels real. Something about it helps settle my mind to focus on painting - the activity is separate from daily tasks, but also part of the web of daily life."

Q. If you could pinpoint the characteristics of people who collect your art, what would they be?

A. "I don't notice specific characteristics of people who collect my work, except that they are very interested in living with art and supportive of my artistic development. They seem to trust their own instincts. One observation I have is that people who have more active, outgoing personalities often purchase the quieter, more introspective paintings, and in contrast, people who have quieter personalities seem to choose the more outgoing, active paintings."

Q. Do you have a degree or do you plan to attend school for art? If so, how did it help you as an artist? What can you tell us about the art department that you attended?

A. "I did undergraduate work as an art major at San Diego State University , with minors in Dance and Music. SDSU's art department gave a good foundation in fundamental art-making skills. One of the solid habits imparted at SDSU was to work regularly, every day if possible, and not wait only for a "big" inspirational moment. Those small, daily moments of activity can develop a direction. Through the process of working, we learn what we are about and what is important to us.

Then for graduate studies in painting, I attended Hunter College in New York . My main teachers were Ralph Humphrey and Ron Gorchov. Both were supportive and did a great job of encouraging us to go in our own directions. (Have you heard about Ron Gorchov's new work shown by Vito Schnabel in NYC? It's wonderful to hear about.)

I attended liberal arts colleges because I was curious about the world of ideas. I come from quiet, simple, hard-working people. Perhaps my father's native American roots contributed to the general silence. I learned to listen well and love silence, but went to college to learn more about words and ideas. What better place than Manhattan for full immersion in the world of artistic ideas?"

Q. Why did you choose the medium(s) that you use?

A. "I've always been interested in fluid, liquid, lyrical surfaces, and I tend to develop slowly in everything I do. So, I figured that acrylic paints would dry faster and have used them consistently. Further influenced by fellow artists, I like to experiment with construction materials for various textures and surfaces – such as Saltillo and driveway crack-sealer and clay. I also mix matte resin with nearly every color or material, which gives a nice clarity to the tones – but as I mentioned earlier, the best medium I have found is opaque until it dries, so it adds to the element of surprise in my working process.

Q.Where can we see more of your art?

A. "My website"

Q. Are you represented by a gallery? Do you have any upcoming exhibits?

A. "I don't have specific representation right now, but I have paintings in a wonderful restaurant near LACMA: Caffe' Latte, on the corner of Crescent Heights and Wilshire Blvd. I am planning to participate in a large group show (in a 10,000 square foot space) coinciding with the Earthday Festival in Los Angeles, opening on April 22, 2007, at UPSpace, curated by gallerist/artist Chris Sicat."

Q. What galleries have you exhibited in? Can you provide links to their sites?

"Lois Lambert Gallery , (Gallery of Functional Art - see work of William Matthews)

Double Vision Gallery -"

Q. Any tips for emerging artists?

A. "It's important to keep making your art no matter what happens in your life and get to know other artists so that you can encourage each other and rant whenever necessary."

Q. What was the toughest point in your career as an artist? Have you ever hit rock-bottom?

A. "I hit rock-bottom in the mid 90s when it seemed that I was spending so much time trying to sell my paintings that I was neglecting the development of the work. The paintings felt as empty as I was feeling inside. So, I pulled back from the selling activities to go more deeply into the work without any deadlines. I work at an art museum, LACMA, so I am surrounded by art from all periods and can spend time in the galleries and then go home at night and focus on going inside my work more deeply. It took six years to develop the "Woman as River" series.

It is difficult to find the balance between staying in the studio and going out into the world to share our work – and maybe we go through phases when we have to be more fully internal."

Q. In one sentence... why do you create art?

A. "I make art because I am happiest when I am painting, and also because I am a visual thinker and because it makes the world a better place. I believe that if everyone took time to develop their own art expression, the world would better place."

Q. What can you tell our readers about the art scene in your area?

A. "Los Angeles is a thriving art community with a strong energy in the art activities around town. It's a very exciting time to be working here… if only the traffic wasn't so bad."

Q. Does religion, faith, or the lack thereof play a part in your art?

A. "I come from a strongly religious family, so in spite of myself, I seem to have consistently explored ways to give some shape to the formless, divine core of all things - trying to connect earth and sky."

I hope that you have enjoyed my interview with Diana Folsom. Feel free to critique or discuss her work.

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin


Anonymous said...

I am so entralled by Diana's lucid articulation of her thoughts, dreams, and ideas. Thanks for sharing this with us!

Anonymous said...

Lovely and haunting work by Diana, wonderful interview-- much to think about. Shakespeare, rivers, female form...happy pondering.

Once, I thought I heard of a Diana Folsom work called "Wideboy." Perhaps that will be in the new show?

Thanks for this!

Elise Caitlin

pickles (shelley) said...

Thanks Diana for sharing your work and your thoughts. I was especially fascinated by the description of how you create these images--that it takes time for each layer of paint to dry and that you don't know how it will look until after it does. The idea of the paintings growing up organically really intrigues me.


Jeremy said...

I love your art!

Anonymous said...

I found Diana's observation that more outgoing people tend to be drawn to her more introspective work, and vice versa. As the owner of one of the tryptychs from the Lois Lambert gallery show, I would say that is true! Yet ALL of Diana's work resonates with both my husband and I in a profound way. She has a gift for speaking through her art to universal themes, a gift for elevating the beautiful and noble in the world; eschewing words, she goes directly to our hearts. Thank you for sharing your gifts with us and with the world. Your messages are deeply felt and enrich my life immeasurably.

Anonymous said...

Will I Am... Hmmm, ex husband maybe? Ha, very nice paintings by the way... Tim Hughes