Diane Lara’s new body of work, Ensō, which is on exhibition at the Mosaic Gallery in the Moose Jaw Cultural Centre until October 10, is a bit of a wonder.
Whereas much of her previous work was driven by a meticulous focus on detail and demonstrated the effect of controlled and considered actions in the process of printmaking, this new body of work lays its entire emphasis on immediacy. The work, which consists of a series of rubbings, is considerably more visceral, gestural, and expressive than previous works. Though it extends the artist’s demonstration of her command over the elements of art, it more richly and obviously demonstrates her love of process and materials. Though deep and personal passion has driven all of this Moose Jaw-based artist’s work, her work has always emerged from the motives of production that, typically, become the guiding subject of it.
Clearly, there is a bit of a rebirth going on in this work. The source material from which Ensō emerges, comes from a deconstruction of a previously exhibited work of prints entitled Tangled. From it, she extracted the weaving: a signature motif or symbol in her body of work. This “caning”, was a product of the artist’s meticulous weaving of thinly sliced paper that was embedded in many of her prints. She also deconstructed previously exhibited “genetic spheres” (another significant symbol within her previous works) from her exhibition Predisposed. In addition, she deconstructed a weaved copper sculpture which was contained within that same exhibition. After its extraction from completed (now destroyed) works, the woven paper was pulled slightly apart and formed into a near-circular shape. This reconstruction of her previous symbols into that circular shape became the source of the fundamental image that is repeated endlessly throughout this new work.
Lara’s previous works have dealt with the subjects of narrative and genetics as tropes that give emphasis to how the building elements of our social and physical construction give shape to our present and future lives. In those works, the emphasis of production was driven by the chemical and mechanical processes of printmaking’s production. This merged medium and message, suggesting the deep connections between foundational elements of construction and the ultimate complexities they build.
In contrast, the production of Ensō has an intense emphasis on a more organic, personal and intimate engagement with both materials and subject. The methods used here eliminate the distancing chemical and mechanical elements that tend to dominate printmaking in order to present the subject. Continuing her practice of linking medium and message, Lara now gives precedence to the tactile and direct aspects of art making in order to express her new, more refined and essential expressions of consideration and conviction. In so doing, the move in her method of production recedes to a more primal and basic element to printmaking – rubbing. The bright and compelling red ochre pigment, present in most images, was a powdered substance directly applied by the artist’s hand rubbing over the surface of the paper. This aspect of more direct contact was restated when the artist created the central symbol of a circle by placing a formed shape of woven paper from previous prints behind the paper and capturing its image by rubbing oil pastels along the paper’s surface. The emphasis here is clearly on a significant reduction of the mediating elements of production in art in order to make her most profound statement.
Pulling from the Zen Bhuddist tradition, Lara makes the ensō (a term meaning circle) her central symbol within this series. In that tradition, the circle is hand-drawn in one or two uninhibited brushstrokes to express a moment when the mind is free to let the body create. Zen aesthetic expressions are rooted in the refined practices of Chinese poetry, painting, and calligraphy. From this tradition, emerged The Toa of Painting: a canonical work from 500 C.E. that saw art as a spiritual path. The Zen arts reached maturation between the 10th and 13th centuries with the emergence of painter-priests that broke with all forms of religious and secular art. They presented work that was neither representational nor iconographical and which was not meant to inspire faith or facilitate liturgy or contemplation. Instead, as John Daido Loori states in The Zen Art Book: The Art of Enlightenment, their works “suggested a new way of seeing and a new way of being that cut to the core of what it meant to be human and fully alive.” Their aesthetic expressions were entirely given to the ineffable – that which eludes human expression – while desiring to transform the human way of seeing the self in the world. Primarily, their images sought to speak to the transcendence of a moment unencumbered by interpretation,
Lara’s work has always been intimate in the sense that it has always been personal. The subject of her oeuvre has always embedded the general in the specific. When discussing how the physical and social elements of human construction give shape to our present and future lives, for example, she has always used her own biography as the venue of expression. Her own specific genetic and social history has been the focus of her work up until now.
Ensō, however, intensifies the intimacy of her expressions and speaks of her deepest convictions about the essential, but elusive nature, of her own artistic expressions. In it, Lara moves her artistic gaze away from the physical and social constructions of her biography and gives attention to a part of herself which may, indeed, transcend her origins and speak to something more fundamental to her being. In so doing, she seems to be looking beyond the surface and subjects of her previous works in order to find its more essential qualities.
Her self-curated and accomplished installation of ensō immediately issues a sense of the transcendent and provides a sense of the power of the ephemeral moment of experience. She places the viewer in a moment of encounter, freeing their mind from analysis while emerging them in a sense of the profound. On this level alone, the work is a success. From her own confessions regarding ensō, Lara is seeking merely to express the creative moment freed from any subject but aesthetics itself. In that, her work is speaking of the profound, immediate and inner experience of beauty as the most fundamental element of human being. This is not only glorious, it is enriching. The over all effect is profoundly humanizing. On that level, the work transcends the banal intension of measuring it as a success or failure in relation to a given cognitive subject.