Art of the ephemeral

Diane ChurchillPhoto:S.Gopakumar.   | Photo Credit: S.GOPAKUMAR

W hen Diane Churchill started out as an artist in the 1960s in the United States (U.S.), the feminist movement in art had just begun to give expression to women’s lives and experiences and she dived right into it. “Until then art had been male dominated in form, view and content and women in art were frowned upon. The movement gave me the confidence to believe in what I was doing. Suddenly, there was a pluralism in art, with women opening up many avenues and mediums for it,” says Diane, a graduate in art history from Wellesley College and studio art from the Brooklyn Museum Art School. Today, Diane is a well-known abstract artist with feminist overtones, based in Nyack, New York, with several solo and group exhibitions to her credit. She also runs a discussion panel on International Women’s Issues at Soho20, a feminist art gallery in NYC, and is also the founder-director of the International Children’s Tile Project, a permanent art installation in the Bronx. Diane was the artist-in- residence at artist Sajitha’s Shankar’s Gowry Art Institute, on the banks of the River Kallar in Thiruvananthapuram. Excerpts from an interview...

Nature seems to be your main muse

I’m inspired by everything in nature, specifically the forces of nature – the flow of water, the evanescence of air, gravity, the growth of plants, the sun and the land, I see fertility...which I try to present as simple, powerful images. I believe that nature is a metaphor for our psychological and emotional state. Currently, it’s the ephemeral in nature that captures my eye. For example, I equate air to thought and spirit. Water, meanwhile, represents the emotional states – calmness, quiet flow, violence...

Then, Kerala – and India, in general – must be rich pickings

I live in the North East of the U.S. where the scenery and sounds are vastly different to what you have here. This is my first trip to India and I’m fascinated by the wildness of the vines in the wilderness of the jungle adjacent to Gowry Art, the extravagant shapes of the leaves and so on. The sky, the light, the birds, the bird calls... are quite different from what I’m used to. I too live near a river [River Hudson] but the Kallar is nothing like it. It seems to have special qualities; very intense, very elemental... I’m finding a sense of peace here. Also, India is very rich in fabrics and patterns, especially the latter, which I am interested in, for fabric art was one of the mediums that opened up with the feminist art movement. It will take a while for me to absorb it all and for it to reflect in my paintings. As of now, I’ve painted only a few observational drawings of the plants and animals around the studio.

What are you working on now?

It’s a work in progress but I call it the ‘furnace’ series, where I am exploring the beauty of heat and fire and the transformational effect of it. It’s called so because a furnace contains/constrains this beauty within a space. What I’m actually interested in now and experimenting with is layering colours. Once upon a time I used to use hot colours in my paintings. Now it’s more of a subtle approach, looking for balance in pigments, which in turn represents the balance inside the body. Nowadays, I apply thin coats of colour, one after another, so that they play hide and seek in my paintings. It’s an extension of trying to explore how light moves through colour.

The International Children’s Tile Project is still the biggest such installation in NYC...

I love children’s art and I am inspired by it. I wanted children to have something big, solid and permanent to hold on to. With the help of a few people and the Fieldston School in NYC, we got children from the U.S., Israel, Switzerland, South Africa, Mexico and Morocco to decorate thousands of mosaic tiles, which have now been put up as a permanent installation of about 20 huge panels, at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx [since 2002]. The whole idea was that it would bring together earth from different parts of the world and children from all over too.

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Printable version | Sep 24, 2021 6:35:16 PM |

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