Fiona: On your website, you explain how you are interested in ‘how an image can be fixed at a point in time, but real life is subject to decay and ruin over time? Can you tell us a bit more about this and why this is something that interests you.
Diane: This falls out of my interest in memory and its role in the creative imagination. I think a many artists are prompted to plough the field of their memory. The saying that “memory makes us what we are as well as what we see” seems to me to have truth and I am keen to unravel this through my work. Memories can be dynamic, they may fade quickly, reoccur, be vivid, fragmented, may change with time, but they can also persist because of some unresolved issue. So this is where for me time interacts with memory. A created image may fix an aspect of memory or an object at a point in time – then the historical object stays in the present, but in the real Now the destructive processes of time will have continued its effect; (also eventually the art work itself!)
So memories provide me with a source of images that my imagination can work with. Memory links the Now to the past and I am attracted by the visual effects and results of the past on Now – by time’s impact, and in this way for me time and memory are fused.
Fiona: Looking at your art, you very often seem to focus on people; individuals, groups and ordinary everyday scenes. Why is this subject matter important to you?
Diane: It is the everyday from which our memories are formed, from our interactions with sentient creatures, events, things in our life; we can be engaged or repulsed by them and our emotional responses may transfer into memories.
Fiona: Your paintings comes across as nostalgic and dream-like? It is figurative but often it also borders on abstraction. Can you explain a little about the processes you use to achieve this and why?
Diane: As I have said I find memories can fade and change over time. In my work I try to explore the visual results of the impact of time. The effect of the elements on frescos are an obvious illustration of this process, and sometimes I use a process in my work that I hope can be read similarly. I do not want to simply work with the concept and may be physically time age or destroy the actual work, I want to make something that transposes the idea into new work.
Sometimes I make a detailed and “finished” drawing or painting and then photograph and print it. I then use the printed image to make a “digital” mono print. I may scrape away the surface of a work, sometimes alter my work digitally, and may rework the altered image. The result in all cases can be a broken, or fractured, or stripped down image that I hope leaves a sense of what could have been effaced over time. Recently I have been working with watercolours and seeing how far the flow of the medium can liberate the image.
You say the work can look abstract- at one time I was a minimalist painter so I have done that and have no real desire to return to it, but for a while I want to see how far I can lose the actual image but still retain a trace of it – a memory.
Fiona: Who are some of your art influences in terms of other artists and what do you like about their work?
Diane: As a start, in answer to this, it has to be one of my tutors at art school but I like in particular the works of the inter and post war British artists such as Sutherland, Paul Nash, John Piper, Prunella Clough and then a number of early and later German painters and print makers. From an earlier period there is George Grosz, Otto Dix. I am off to Edinburgh to see the Emil Nolde exhibition as that will not be coming to England and I do like his watercolours. Then coming more contemporary, those German artists who studied in East Germany (as was) and came over to the West; Gerhard Richter, George Baselitz, Anselm Kiefer. I am attracted to a dystopian view and I can relate in part to what Baselitz says below about how his approach was formed, but I see only on television and the internet the actual destruction of a society by war, so I come to that sense of the “apocalyptic” through empathy and the effects of time.
“I was born into a destroyed order, a destroyed landscape, a destroyed people, a destroyed society. And I didn’t want to reestablish an order: I had seen enough of so-called order. I was forced to question everything, to be ‘naive’, to start again,” (Baselitz – interview from 1995)
Fiona:What exhibitions have you been to recently that have inspired you?
Diane: I am rather eclectic with my influence and references. I am interested in history, so many of the exhibitions I go to see have an historical context. I like the British Museum and the exhibitions there that have stayed with me are ‘Scythians – warriors of ancient Siberia’, which was in 2017, and ‘Rodin and the art of ancient Greece’ which was earlier this year. Both were so comprehensive and interesting and at the Rodin exhibition his work was juxtaposed with the Greek sculptures that influenced him; that one was so beautiful.
In the last year I have also been to the following exhibitions:
All too Human -exhibition of figure painting- Tate Britain: Picasso 1932 -Tate Modern: Aftermath – Tate Britain: Joan Jonas -Tate Modern: Thomas Cole -National Gallery : Edward Bawden – Dulwich Gallery.
I will be looking forward to seeing the Yayoi Kusama at Victoria Miro later this year. I saw her show at the Tate some time back and I really enjoyed it.
Fiona: How would you like to see your work and art practice develop in the future?
Diane: I am interested in the way that brain science seems to be progressing and developing, in improving our understanding of the brain and its role in storing and making memory. I do not have any science background but how the short term memory transfers into the long term is one of the processes I am interested in.
I want to see how this growing interest may feed, intuitively, through into my work – perhaps deepening the concepts with which I am engaged but changing, liberating the images in my work. I have read that “art is a balance between breaking new ground and recalling the past” so I want my work to reflect that balance.
When I first posted about art works using squirrels (I also included my own!) I was ignorant of a long history of squirrels being featured in art work, of humans’ obsessions with these little animals and keeping then as pets. Just when you think you might have stumbled on what I thought was a relatively un-mined subject matter, history again lets one know- there is nothing new!
A few Images from Art History showing squirrels as pets.
A detail from the 4th century Luttrell Psalter, shows n image of a woman playing with a pet squirrel, British Library.
A floor tile 1290-1300 (circa) shows a woman wearing a coronet and with her pet squirrel. British Museum, Chertsey tiles: Queens Panel
created 1526-1528. Hans Holbein the Younger.
National Gallery London
Detail of Portrait of a Lady with a Squirrel , about 1565. Attributed to Francesco Montemezzano,
I am grateful to the Broider Me ‘Bethan ( cannot get the web site link to work!)
and to Rosalie’s Medieval Woman https://rosaliegilbert.com/petkeeping.html for pointing me in the direction of some of these images.
The practice of keeping squirrels as “pets” and exploiting these creatures far beyond simply drawing and capturing their images has carried. In searching for squirrels in art I have come across numerous internet sites and videos featuring small furry animals, in particular squirrels. For the most part these sites are about showing, making, and selling images, sculptures and toys. But in 2018 there are sites engaged in the selling of various breeds of these creatures for pets.
After thousands of years of domestication dogs and cats to some extent may trust we humans and tolerate our behaviour towards them in return for food and shelter, but for wild animals it must be very difficult to make us understand what they find intrusive and unacceptable – but of course they can always bite us!
In the UK the grey squirrel is considered a pest, as it has threatened the survival of the indigenous red squirrel. For me there is a dissonance regarding concern for these animals’ natural behaviour and welfare and the action being taken in parts of the country to eliminate them. Not one I can resolve.
One well documented and famous 20th century story about humans making pets of squirrels is that of squirrel Tommy Tucker.
In the 1940s an orphaned squirrel was adopted by Zaidee Bullis in Washington. She named the squirrel Tommy Tucker and he became celebrated in America after an article about him appeared in Life Magazine along with a series of photos by Nina Leen (Time & Life Pictures/Getty ) showing Tommy wearing the different costumes made for him. Below are two examples.
There are many current examples in on-line videos of such treatment of small animals. While some of us use drawing and painting to create our fantasies about animals perhaps some humans take it all too far with trying to turn their fantasies of these animals into reality.
This gallery contains 4 photos.
The subject matter of beds seems to have broad attraction! A photographer friend, Cathy Cooper, https://cathycooper.photography, likes neatly made beds, so different from the images of the unmade beds in my previous bed post- those of Tracey Emin, Tammy Rae … Continue reading
I am intrigued by this 3D work of Maurizio Cattelan in which he has used a stuffed squirrel The use of actual animals in art rather than through artists’ depicting them using skill, or interpretation, has always been difficult for me and I trust that this squirrel was already dead and stuffed by another hand before Cattelan came across it. Not being sure what he was saying about this squirrel I resorted to another’s interpretation and below is comment from the Guardian newspaper’s arts correspondent.
“The dead squirrel raises all sorts of discussions. Is it a meditation on social mobility? The work is called Bidibidobidiboo, the Fairy Godmother’s spell to transform Cinderella – but no one was ever going to transform this squirrel, living in such dingy surroundings with little hope of escape to a better life. It was, in every sense of the word, stuffed. Or is it a much more personal piece? The kitchen is modelled on the one Cattelan grew up in and the artist has talked about how his mother accidentally left a hot iron on the yellow Formica table. To save it, his father sawed off the end with the burn mark leaving the family to always eat their meals on an absurdly shrunken table.” Mark Brown Arts Correspondent Guardian 2012
A couple of years ago I drew a squirrel in a toy car, seemingly careering around the landscape, and which I had been prompted to do after a session drawing in the landscape. A squirrel had sat beside me while I was drawing trees and for sometime had remained there quite still. I made a couple of quick sketches of my squirrel companion. Other squirrels were frantically scurrying here and there, hiding things, fighting and chasing each other, but this one stuck to me – did it hope I had food??
Prior to this drawing session I had been working on an idea of toy animals in cars, the impetus coming from my drawing a toy belonging to one of my nieces. Back at home the ideas of the squirrel and of a toy animal in a toy car got merged. My fancy was that a squirrel, if given the keys to a car, would tear around, break the speed limit, and generally have a hectic, demented, but enjoyable time. I did an initial drawing of my idea but did not develop it further, so I was really interested to see how someone else has used a squirrel in his work, (although he had done his work long before me, I think in 1996). Having discovered Cattelan’s work I am prompted to think about developing my squirrel idea and particular version. The sense of freedom and not a little menace that I see in my squirrel is quite the opposite of the interpretation given to Cattelan’s 3D work.
New York Times Illustrated Interview
I also recently discovered The New York Times Illustrated Interviews site. It is very entertaining and below is a link to the Illustrated Interview with Maurizio Cattelan, though not about squirrels!
More to Come
I have come across a few interesting uses of squirrels in art, though for me some border on the abusive and more on this in later posts. For the idea of my post title I acknowledge Nancy Rose’s books “The Secret life of Squirrels “.
By chance I had been reading about artists have used unmade beds to illustrate their concepts. Initially I thought I would write about a few who had caught my attention, however, after a little further research I found that there are many artists who make works about beds and so I may well return to this theme again later. For now here are two plus my own contribution!
Tracey Emin’s “My Bed” (above) is a 3D re-construction of her unmade, dishevelled, bed. She made this in 1998 during/after her emotional breakdown and breakup/separation from her boyfriend. The work has an idiosyncratic context and narrative, but it does convey the universal concepts that “bed” can be a refuge, a hiding place, be a place of disintegration and denigration.
Two American artists who have made significant “bed” works are Felix Gonzales Torres and Tammy Rae Carland.
In 1991 Felix Gonzales Torres photographed his vacated bed and the image was positioned around Manhattan on 24 enormous billboards: (image above). It has been described as a “powerful juxtaposition between public and private spaces .… exposed most intimate spaces”. For Gonzales Torres art was a means of addressing social concerns, he was gay and the vacated bed had been shared with his lover. Although as with Emin’s bed there is the strong personal narrative, various commentators have attributed to the work the universal associations of comfort, vulnerability, intimacy, loneliness and loss.
Tammy Rae Carland’s series of 13 photographs of Lesbian Women’s beds (recently vacated), were started in 2000 and all are 40 x inches in size (above is one of the images). Tammy Rae talks abut her work in a video posted on the Jessica Silverman Gallery site. In it she says for her, “absence can be a potent tool for addressing representation, whether devoid of central subjects or presenting the marginalised histories of persons.” (click on the image above to go to the video).
As for my contribution, (image above), I share the same universal asociations which can impel us to think about or take to our beds, vulnerability, loss and intimacy, a place of safety, but I have not felt the need to be drawn on identity and be specific about my little drawing’s narrative or context. I leave it to the viewer to take whatever comes through my work, nevertheless some thoughts about my drawing are, it is a response to the sense of touch and envelopment offered by upheaved bedding and folds . Having drawn the image in scratchy pen and ink though, I can see the choice of medium perhaps contrasts with the nature of bedding, so may be, as well as childhood memories of keeping the world at bay, there is some intimation of “bed” being less than comfort, maybe a place of punitive banishment.
I keep my shopping receipts. I have a clear out occasionally and have thought about using them to make paper mache sculpture, perhaps one day!