Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Interview: Diana Behl

Diana Behl lives and works in Brookings, SD. A recent recipient of a Bush Foundation Dakota Creative Connections grant, she has been teaching Printmaking and Foundations at South Dakota State University for three years. Her current body of work often assumes characteristics of diary or logbook, refrencing both memory and narrative. Personal iconography alludes to metaphor and humor, while the physical accumulation of collaged material and amassment of drawn marks suggest reflection on these themes. Her works on paper have been featured in the Western Edition of New American Paintings volume.66 and the 2004 MFA Annual. She has exhibited works at the Sioux City Art Center (Sioux City, IA), Lux Center for the Arts (Lincoln, NE), Soo Visual Arts Center (Minneapolis, MN) and the International Print Center New York (NY, NY). Her mixed media images are also featured in The Drawing Center's new online Artist Registry and Viewing Program.

Kristin Dalton: When did you first know you wanted to be a professional artist?
Diana Behl: As cliché as it may sound, as a kid.
KD: I love cliché!
DB: I was very interested in writing and art, even as a kid. So at first it was an ice skater and then in about the fourth grade it was an author, actress or artist. Too bad for me I am terrible with things attached to my feet. No skis or skates for me.
KD: Thank goodness for the art world, not so much for the figure skating world. I'm laughing just thinking about little Diana ice skating! I can see you saying Wooooooooooooo! as you glide along.
DB: Funny.
KD: Totally funny.
KD: Quotidian- extraordinary in the ordinary. Your work is flooded with quotidian references. Do you think living and teaching in the Midwest has affected your work?
DB: I think the idea of place plays an important role in my work. For example, I am very sensitive to space... especially the space in which I work. The idea of pulling from quotidian experiences came to fruition while living in Iowa City. Snippets of my immediate surroundings started appearing in my work. Shapes of buildings, old windows, old signage I started making drawings in my kitchen, sitting on a 1930's breakfast nook, overlooking a Laundromat, and a building which used to be a horse barn.
KD: You are a very articulate lady indeed, you can see it in your work.

KD: I don't know your immediate influences but two artists came to mind when reviewing your work. First the chaos of Cy Twombly.
DB: Cy Twombly is a genius with color. My work is very influenced by his oeuvre
and his own sense of space, and his compositions.
KD: The second, Julie Mehretu. You both are both interested in the layering of time, collection, and your work is very much a personal diary.
DB: Julie Mehretu has a wonderful use of line and variety of texture.
KD: You received a BFA in graphic design as well as printmaking from Bowling Green University, you work is saturated in design elements. Do you feel like your background in design has made your work stronger?
DB: My interest in typography has certainly influenced the visual characteristics of my work. I love using *text as image* and I don't necessarily think that my background in design made the work stronger. It just made the work what it is–it is imbued in, and woven into the work.
KD: It's funny, I feel strange asking that question because in the art world there seems to be this invisible barrier between graphic design and fine art.
DB: Maybe for some... but so much work these days share the characteristics of graphic design. So many designers are making drawings and other objects that I think the idea of a barrier is absurd.
KD: Functional or commercial art seems to be placed on a lower level than fine art. I totally agree that the barrier should be ripped down like the Berlin wall.
DB: Well, certainly a logo for McDonalds and a Cy Twombly painting are different.
KD: Well yes, I mean with graphic designers like Stephen Sagmeister out there, there really is no difference, brilliance is brilliance.
DB: I agree with your statement.
KD: Your work is spread out between printmaking, drawing, and installation pieces. Somehow you make a consistent body of work throughout changes in media. When you begin a piece what comes first for you; Content or Medium?
DB: I think different content calls for different media and no one wants to become bored, and so for me it is important to change media but within the different bodies of work there are similarities. The first one is the process whether it's the process of cutting out hundreds of snowflakes, toiling over copper plates, or very meticulously drawing dotted lines that is representative of a passage of time, or the diarist quality you mentioned before.
KD: All of your work is very time consuming in different ways, whether it be the printing process or collecting ephemera for your works on paper.
DB: Yes, there is a hybrid of delight and labor involved.
KD: Truly quotidian.
DB: It's quite delightful to come across this old "how to behave" "what is proper etiquette" books, yet quite laborious pulling an intaglio edition.
KD: Very true. Printmaking is hard labor!
DB: A mentor in grad school would often comment on my choice of media. "Why labor over these copper plates when you could so easily paint this image?". One must be enamored of their materials and methods.
KD: You have to be or else you aren't a printmaker, you are a painter. Printmakers are obsessed with the process painters are obsessed with the product. Your work has recently been added to the viewing archive of the New York Drawing Center, that's very exciting!
DB: Alth
ough I have not yet visited the drawing center, I am excited by their commitment to drawing as a viable medium.
KD: You have a forthcoming show at Music Saves, a independent record store in Cleveland, Ohio. I feel as though music is like carbohydrates for artists, we need it to produce. What music have you been listening to lately?
DB: Right now i am listening to Dead Meadow, Fleet foxes, and Bon Iver.
KD: Lovely.
DB: What about you?
KD: Well let's see, Santogold and France Gall for the most part, also Lots of Neko Case.
DB: Her use of metaphor is very inspiring.
KD: Very much so. What new projects have you been working on?
DB: Well, recently I completed a fun project for a small exhibition called OLD SCHOOL it will be at a place called UPPERCASE in Calgary. The proprietor of the shop sent out participant’s inspiration packets which contained old school ephemera such as flash cards, handwriting rubrics and textbook pages, each artist is asked to create a few pieces interpreting the theme. Next up is a themed exhibition called Safety Architecture, a friend of mine is curating, and we have been asked to interpret this theme as we wish. I have been thinking a lot lately about complacency in place, if that makes sense complacency is a false sense of security, therefore sometimes remaining in a place just because one feels "safe" can be detrimental.
KD: I live in rural Wyoming, it makes total sense to me.
DB: At the same time, there are so many pockets of hidden beauty. Most importantly, it is being aware of your surroundings. Hence, adverting danger.
KD: Yes safety is priceless, but we are all reminded that progress and safety cannot coexist.
DB: That is a great observation. Perhaps that is why we are always working towards a different place.
KD: I think artists are inherently forward facing, it's our nature, whether it's the next project or moving to a new place to create.
KD: Your work is part of a new wave of art on paper, how does that feel?
DB: I feel as though i need to make something innovative with this paper.
KD: Well so far you have impressed and intrigued countless viewers, including New American Paintings.
DB: It is fantastic when an audience responds positively. There is a whole world yet to be explored.
KD: Definitely. It seems as though you can create powerful work in the most obscure places, you teach in South Dakota, ideally where would you like to be in 5 years?
DB: I have no idea as far as location is concerned. It would be great if the work would travel more frequently outside of the Midwest. Most importantly, I hope to be productive in making meaningful work that reaches a broad and diverse audience.

KD: Wonderful.
KD: We all have an artist or a few artists that have just blown us away upon viewing their work, those artists that make our job worthwhile, and inspire us to create. Who are those artists for you?
DB: Cy Twombly, Squeak Carnwath, Ellen Gallagher, and my friends.
KD: What is your greatest art related accomplishment to date?
DB: Perseverance.
KD: Rock n roll Ladybug.
KD: You gave me Letters to a Young Artist, which is an inspirational book. What advice do you give your students about trudging through the art world?
DB: Work hard, know what you want, don't be lazy, go for it, and stop complaining. Ha!
KD: I still hear your voice saying, "Kristin! Create more, create more!" whenever I’m working.
DB: Sometimes it's very difficult to make more, but "art as experience", commitment to the work and to the process and research is extremely important. It's like training for a marathon.
Big thanks to the talented and delightful Ms. Diana Behl. Check out her work at!
Images courtesy of Diana Behl and *All rights reserved.