Tag Archives: Diane Lara

Fundamental Truths Running in Circles

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.

IMG_1541Clearly, 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.

E002-Enso II-SAM_0575-mLara’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,

IMG_3951Lara’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.

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The Collectors Series: Diane and Carlos Lara

Diane and Carlos Lara have a substantial art collection.  The Saskatchewan-based artist and her husband have been amassing this collection since the 1980s.  It includes many works by artists with a Saskatchewan connection.  This includes works by established artists like Anne Meggitt, James Henderson, Gus Froese, Zach Dietrich, Wendy Parsons, Jack Sures,  and Anne Heeney.  It also includes works by emerging artists like Jody Greenman-Barber, Jennifer McRorie, Brandan Doty, Chris Wikman and Ross Melanson. 

Their collection also houses historical works by artists like Joan Rankin, an abstract painter who was associated with Clement Greenberg and members of the Regina Five while building an international reputation for her work, and the renowned artist Robert Motherwell.  Their collection also includes works by nationally-exhibiting artists like Susan Rankin, Brad Copping, and Erica Grimm-Vance and includes works by American artists like printmakers, Ron Schaefer and Jackie McElroy, and ceramicist, Butch Holden.

 Recently, I interviewed Diane Lara about her collection, its history, its mandate and her views about collecting art and art, itself.

When did you first realize that you were interested in art?

I think I was always interested in art; I was always curious about it and I always liked making it.  My Mom and art teachers at school encouraged me.  I was good at it and enjoyed it and it just felt right.  But I wasn’t encouraged to think of art as a serious career.  I’m from a blue-collar working family in the 50s and the best career a girl should think of having, other than being a housewife, was being a secretary, teacher, or nurse.  We never had the opportunity to go to museums or galleries; I received my visual influences from books in the doctors’ offices, my art teachers, the odd school museum trip, and then more books.

Thomas Law
“Chris at the Window” by Thomas K. Law, 1986, 116/200. The first Lara acquisition.

What was the first piece of art that you ever acquired?

If I remember correctly, the first piece of original art I acquired was back in the late 80s, when I came across this beautiful lithograph in a gift shop in Calgary, where I lived.  It was a large drawing, limited edition litho; although, at the time, I didn’t know the difference between a reproduction and an original print.   I’ve always been attracted to mark-making and the lines in this drawing were calling to me.  I actually still have it up on a wall, in the same matting and frame I made at one of those U-frame It places!

How did you build your collection?

I didn’t feel I could afford to purchase any other art back then, so that print was my one and only “real” art piece I acquired until I went to university.  I returned to school in the 90s to do what I always felt I was meant to do, which was learning all about art and making art!  This is when I became surrounded by beautiful, original art every day.  I wish I had taken a more pro-active approach to collecting back then and traded more works with my fellow students, but most of my works were assigned projects and so were my colleagues’.  It was during my graduate degree that I actively traded art with my colleagues and, though I can’t remember which was first or even last trade, I acquired many beautiful pieces at that time.  All those art works I acquired have memories and a story attached to them.  Some of my undergraduate and graduate colleagues are now doing quite well though!

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Work by Chris Wikman, Susan Rankin, and Rob Froese (top to bottom).

There’s just so much wonderful art out there and you can’t have it all!  I love all kinds of art, even that which can’t be categorized.  However, there is one necessary criterion:  there needs to be an immediate connection between the work and me.  Everything else becomes secondary, but builds upon this first aspect of connection.  After that “love at first sight” hits, I ask myself the whys and how comes, etc.

I try to support artists from my community and the surrounding region.  Artists I know and have spent some time with have made many of the works in my collection, but there are also works by artists I’ve admired from afar.

By the way, I also have many utilitarian art objects in my home that I can touch and use every day; things like mugs, serving dishes, plates and teapots.  I think “Why buy some machine-made object when you can purchase a beautiful, one-of-a-kind, handmade object by a friend and fellow artist just down the road?”  You’re also supporting your community when you buy these things and it will mean so much more to you as you use them and look at them.  Art and life seem inseparable to me now; if only I could’ve acknowledged that earlier.

Do you concern yourself with the investment aspects of art at all? Are you buying art as an investment?

That is definitely one of the secondary factors I am consciously thinking about when I fall in love with a work.  Investment falls under the research period when I’m thinking seriously of acquiring a piece.  Typically, I look into the artist and their practice before I acquire a piece.  However, sometimes love just trumps all.

What type of advice would you give a collector starting out right now?

Hmmm, I think the most important thing to remember is get to know your community and its artists and if you don’t care for or like the art you see, don’t buy it. I think it’s just consumption if you are buying for the sake of buying? If you buy only for the sake of buying, you just have “stuff” surrounding you, not beautiful original works that mean so much to you and brings so much joy (and memories) to you. Usually I know immediately when I love a work. Be true to yourself and don’t try to please the expectations of anyone else’s view of art.  Buy from your own “connectivity” – there’s a certain humanity in that I think.

But if I was giving advice to someone wanting to collect, I would say try looking within your own community, your region or the part of the world you live in.  The works by these artists will likely mean more to you than someone’s work in a land or place you’ve never visited; I know I wouldn’t be able to relate to it.

“In the Presence of Absence” by Jody Greenman-Barber

What was your most recent purchase and why did you buy it?

My most recent purchase was this amazing ceramic sculpture by Jody Greenman Barber. I’ve watched her progress from making cylinders to making these “dancing sculptures” with clay. Though these later works don’t actually dance, their form insinuates movement, albeit in a static shape.  I think she’s innovative and energetic in her way of handling the medium and isn’t afraid of experimenting with creation and working through the challenges associated with clay (which are many).

When I bought this piece, I was able to pay her small payments until I paid for the full price. If you really want something, artists are generally quite compensating in finding a way for payment that’s good for both of you.  I’m sure I’ll be drawn to more enticing work by Jody in the future.

Which pieces of work in your own collection have you been thinking about lately and why?

Lara Home
Joan Rankin’s painting, “victory” is on the right. Also in this picture are works by Erica Grimm-Vance, Jennifer McRorie, Susan Rankin, Ross Melanson, Anita Rocamora and Jack Sures

Well, I’m always looking at and contemplating various works, but lately it’s more about memories centered around a number of works I have that were made by an old friend of mine that recently passed away, Joan Rankin. I know it is now too late for any more questions about the works and there will be no more stories about art, artists, or what it was like for a female artist creating those works in the 60s. I am only too happy I had the opportunity to really get to know this artist and I will always be able to enjoy her strong presence through her art.

Who is not in your collection and you would like them to be? Who is in your line of fire these days?

Oh my god, I admire so many artists and their works and would love to have their work on display in my home! I have to admit I’m always looking and right now there’s a couple artists that stick in my mind – maybe it’s bad luck to say my thoughts out loud, but one is having a show soon in Regina. Logically; however, “my line of fire”, prioritized, might be some works by my professors from U of R – I have a couple, but that’s it. And then continue looking at local and regional works I’m attracted to. I’m no longer working, so it will just take longer to acquire works now, so patience is a must.

I have a more general question about art, Who is your favourite or most inspiring artist and why?

Oh, Ross, you ask too many difficult questions!  I don’t think I really have a favourite artist – it evolves through time. Historically, I was obsessed with Kathe Kollwitz and then Vija Celmens and the conceptualist, Eva Hesse. Closer to me in time and place, and more accessible, continues to be our local ceramic artists, Wendy Parsons and Zach Dietrich. They never cease to amaze me with their new ideas and projects – from shapes and forms of utilitarian objects to assemblages and sculptures!

Getting back to collecting, I have one final question.  Why, in your view, is it important to have original art in your house?

There’s consumption and then there’s collecting.  Original art means a lot to me, especially when someone I know and/or admire makes it. What better way can you acknowledge their talent, and show your support of the arts, than to share it with others that visit you in your home? I hope I’ll always be able to continue with collecting art!

This image includes works by Zach Dietrich, Rob Froese, Anne Meggitt, and Jody Greenman-Barber
This image includes works by Zach Dietrich, Rob Froese, Anne Meggitt, and Jody Greenman-Barber

The Dystopian Vision of Diane Lara

I don’t remember the first time I met Diane Lara, but I assure you that she is unforgettable.  She is, by nature, a warm person with a complicated mix of unrestrained whimsy, sharp wit, and thoughtful seriousness; think two parts Ellen Degeneres and one part Gloria Steinem and you will have some semblance of her personality.  Socially, she embodies the “life of the party.”  As she has often quipped herself, she “loves to perform” and will more than likely take center stage in a public forum when given a chance.  Her sharp mind, quick quips, and self-deprecating humor, mixed with her highly principled nature, determine the fact that she is worthy of that social positioning.

Given her demonstrative, expressive, and highly social nature, it is not surprising that Lara is an artist.  What is surprising, however, is that her corpus of work does not belie the most fun-loving and carefree aspects of her social personae.  Her work tends toward the contemplative and contains reference to the more serious and troubling aspects of her own biography.

Though her specific subject matter has varied throughout the years, her approach has always been that of biographical narrative and, despite the fact that her body of work acts as a visual diary of her own life, it has also managed to explore the universal human experience – the search for emancipation and meaning in the midst of the concrete situations that limit our human experience.

Dancing DreamThe most consistent element within her biography chronicled within her work has been her very human struggle with the limiting experiences of both illness and aging, along with the genetic factors implicit in them. Undoubtedly, illness has been a defining force in the biography of Lara.  Her grandmother suffered from dementia, her mother from ALS, and her father with lung cancer.  In all of these instances, the illness was prolonged and increasingly debilitating. Through these extended processes, Lara was a significant caregiver for these loved ones.  This gave her responsibilities that only accelerated over time, increasingly demanding more of her attention and determining more of her actions.  In each of these situations, the increased demand continued in her life without reprieve until she was eventually emancipated through the tragedy of their unfortunate demise.

While chronicling her experiences with illness, Lara’s has sometimes focused her eyes on herself.  Her bachelor’s degree culminated in a series of prints that explored her psychological reactions to her emerging awareness of her own infertility.  In Perseverance, Lara refers to a debilitating gall bladder problem she had while working on her graduate degree in North Dakota.  Most times, however, Lara has focused her attention on the impact of illness and aging on family members.  Her “Tangles” series, which has traveled significantly throughout the province of Saskatchewan, gives emphasis to the subject of dementia embodied in the life of her maternal grandmother and a close friend.

Lara’s work denotes the social limitations which illness and aging places on people.  Over all, it illustrates how these inevitable processes of life work to produce increasing immobility, dependence, and vulnerability in the lives of people afflicted by them.  By this, she also implies the vicarious limitation that aging and illness places on those who inhabit the social spaces around the afflicted.

dianedetailWhile being highly cathartic in nature, Lara’s work is neither despairing nor angry.  She avoids being morose and does not exhibit any works with overt senses of resentment regarding the devastation that illness has brought to her loved ones or regarding the subsequent control it took in her life.

For as long as I have known Lara, I have been intrigued as to what exactly motivates her in the making of this work.  Though, to be sure, Lara’s art making is therapeutic in nature, I have not found this to be a satisfying explanation for the impetus for her work.  I have long suspected that there were more intense motives for the creation of this corpus.

Frank Zappa is quoted as saying that “writing about music is like dancing about architecture.”  I agree with the sentiments of this saying.  Making art is a visceral activity that is often more intuitive than cognitive.  Typically, the artist is bringing forth a body of work driven by often-mysterious, inner impulses to create.  Given this reality, it is a very precarious thing to write critically or analytically about art, much less to attempt to bring cognitive consideration regarding the fundamental nature of any body of work and its ultimate motives.  My intention in casting a thoughtful eye toward Lara’s work or its motives is not to be either conclusive or exhaustive in regard to critical analysis.  I simply want to open up vistas of dialogue that I hope will be filled with an increased appreciation that I think the work deserves.

In my view, Diane Lara’s work takes on a significant import when considered in dialogue with the historical constructs that fuel the contemporary and popular views of beauty.  Clearly, there are a variety of thoughts regarding the nature of beauty that could converse with Lara’s work.  However, I would posit that the strongest assumptions regarding beauty are those that have been with us the longest.  I would argue that it is the most ancient philosophical assumptions regarding anything that sink the farthest into our psyches and function most powerfully under the radar of our consciousness.  In regard to beauty, this would be the assumption of its association with both order and symmetry.

Aristotle, one of the intellectual pillars of the Western sensibility, stated, “the chief forms of beauty are order and symmetry and definiteness.”  Augustine, another architect of Western consciousness, followed Aristotle’s lead and declared, “all bodily beauty consists in the proportion of the parts.”  In his seminal work Aesthetics from Classical Greece to the Present, Monroe Beardsley notes “the key concepts in Augustine’s theory of beauty are unity, number, equality, proportion, and order.”  In essence, this intellectual trajectory for beauty has determined it to be the positive emotional and cognitive response to the objects that most profoundly manifest order and balance.  Given this template, beauty has most often been associated with concepts such as health, happiness, vitality, and fertility.  Put another way, beauty has most often been association with a series of conceptions that resemble wholeness, unity, and totality.   This very general assumption regarding beauty has been the impetus for most of the aesthetic expressions in the Western world and, consequently, has determined much of the social perceptions of value.

You & Me VIIIBy implication, these assumptions about the essential nature of beauty determine an emotional distancing from that which is its antithesis – the chaotic or misshapen.  From this, it is apparent that a move toward the popular construct of beauty is a departure from that which is marred, miserable, weak, and sterile.  Consequently, this move toward transcendence regarding beauty is simultaneously a move away from the immanent reality of the ordinary, typical, banal and particular.

At the most fundamental levels, Lara’s work challenges these traditional assumptions of beauty, by focusing the viewer’s attention on the very dystopian experience of human illness and aging.  Where the tide of tradition has determined a mandate in which the artist is to avert human attention away from the imperfections in everyday life and toward the refined and universal ideals of order and balance, Lara’s work goes against the grain.  The traditions within her own aesthetic practices have determined a prolonged stare at the form of human suffering.  In so doing, this contemporary Moose Jaw artist leads us over the hill of predictable values and opens up a new horizon of axiological possibilities.

In form, Lara’s aesthetic presentations retain the traditional language of order and structure that has driven the Western dialogue about beauty.  Her collages epitomize a process of composition that suggest the restraint and control of exterior, organizing principles.  This concession to tradition provides the viewer with a familiar, comprehensible and palatable grammar that can be easily parsed, giving her work an air of domesticity. The fields of color, textures, and images that comprise her collages of information, are all warm and inviting, even docile.

The biographical nature of her work furthers its sense of conformist predictability.  The You & Me IXmeaning of the work seems to be the conveyance of historical information regarding the artist’s numerous and personal brushes with sickness.  However, like most people’s appreciation of beauty, this reading of her work seems hopelessly superficial.

I would contend that Lara’s work has, at its root, a subversive quality.  The palatable composition of her work, combined with the sense that it’s meaning is immediately comprehensible acts as a Trojan horse, allowing a deeper and more existential challenge to happen within the viewer.  This, in my understanding, is made consciously evident when one considers her work in the light of our traditional assumptions regarding beauty.

Traditional views of beauty would suggest a subject matter focusing on the symmetry of met expectations and the order of embodied ideals.  Practically, this would mean a visual emphasis on the endless potential, rapture, vivacity, and productivity that is exemplified in youth.  Lara’s work goes contra to this trend and, as a result, it challenges the historical, popular and contemporary constructs of beauty.  Where traditional and popular assumptions of beauty celebrate the ideals of health, happiness, vitality, and fertility, Lara’s work chronicles situations of imperfection that suggest the potential despair, lethargy, and aimlessness that is often found within the processes of both aging and illness. In this, I would suggest that she is exposing the practical weakness of this cognitive ideal to bring any lasting meaning to the concrete, physical existence of the individual.

Given Lara’s conscious feminism, it is not surprising that a substantial amount of   Lara’s work is predominantly focused on the subject of women.  Given the role that the popular philosophical constructs of beauty has played in dominating the social perception of women and how it has determined the choices placed before them, it is equally unsurprising that her work can be said to have a sublimated, critical dialogue with that subject.

02-Installation-MJMAG-2 To the greatest degree, Lara’s work has chosen women in very vulnerable situations in regard to the traditional values by which they have been given social worth.  The vast majority of women she memorializes are past their prime and thus no longer represent the ideals of vitality or fertility, meaning they can no longer be sexualized and found superficially attractive.  In addition, they are incapacitated either physically or mentally, meaning they can no longer be valued by their utility. This reaches an apex with the two women captured within the “Tangles” series.  They are well beyond the constructs of health, happiness, vitality, and fertility that comprise the dominating perception of beauty.

Her absence of aversion in regard to her infertility and the cryptic foreshadowing that is implicit within her bout with gallbladder trouble, serves to both personalize and intensify her dialogue with constructs of beauty and the questions of female (or human) social value which that dialogue emits.

To me, the overall grace in Lara’s work is that she manages to avoid a deconstructive cynicism in regard to beauty.  Avoiding the easy road of dismissing it altogether, Lara seems to be pursuing a more workable understanding of beauty that encompasses a greater sense of concrete reality.

As was stated earlier, moves toward the popular and traditional ideal of beauty are simultaneously departures from that which is broken.  This situation determines that attraction to the former breeds a sublimated contempt for the latter.  Within the context of a dialogue between Lara’s oeuvre and this tradition, her work sheds light on the ugly side of beauty.  Her continuous emphasis on the ordinary, plain, and marred realities of our concrete human experience, demonstrates the great gulf between that universal ideal and our particular everyday existence.

However, I would suggest that Lara is not seeking to deconstruct the nature of beauty as much as she is attempting to redirect the gaze of those pursuing it.  In dialogue with the popular constructs of this concept, her work seems to be saying that beauty is something that is found within our ordinary, human, everyday, flawed experience.  Her work implies that beauty is something intrinsic within our humanity that abides with us throughout our lives, giving us dignity and meaning.  In this sense, she is implying that beauty is not something external, superficial or extrinsic, attributing value from above like a patriarchal deity.  However, this emerging contemporary Moose Jaw artist seems to be saying something even more social and relational about beauty than this cognitive rendering of an article is stating.   What I am attempting to say is that the “beauty” of Lara’s work is seen in that, by giving unfettered emphasis to the tragic, it evokes pathos.  This, I would contend, is what her work means to say.

Diane Lara was born in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan in 1956 and, in her later teens, she moved to Alberta.  After spending 17 years in the workforce, mostly as a legal secretary, she returned to the province of her birth.  Immediately on the heels of her return to Saskatchewan, Lara began taking classes at the University of Regina.  In 1995, she earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Printmaking and, three years later, received her Masters of Fine Art in the same discipline from the University of North Dakota.  Though she has spent most of her recent years in Moose Jaw, she has also served as an adjunct faculty at Bemidji State University and Medicine Hat College.  She continues her art practice in Moose Jaw.

 Since her graduation from the University of North Dakota, Lara has had four solo exhibitions and been involved in over 10 group exhibitions.  Her work is included in the collections of such diverse institutions as the Saskatchewan Arts Board, Hokkaido Museum (Japan), and the College of New Jersey.