InnerViews: A Creative Interview with Diane McGregor
Our first InnerView to kick off 2008 features Santa Fe-based artist, Diane McGregor. Diane's abstract oil paintings are described as atmospheric mists of color and light, sometimes dissolving boundaries of geometric forms, suggesting a mysterious presence amid the austere minimalist grids. For over 20 years, her paintings have been exhibited and represented throughout the United States and are included in international public and private collections. A selection of Diane's paintings were recently acquired by the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center for their permanent art collection. When she is not painting, Diane works as a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, caring for injured and orphaned birds and mammals.
JJLJ: Hello Diane- Welcome to this session of InnerViews and thank you for agreeing to participate!
DM: Thanks for inviting me, Jennifer.
JJLJ: How did you come to work in the medium of oil painting?
DM: Ever since I was 6 years old and got my first paint-by-number set I have loved oil paint, even the smell! I painted all through elementary and high school, and then in college I had to use acrylics and other media, but I’ve always preferred oil on canvas to any other media. I recently read an article about the painter, Karl Benjamin – he said that under a microscope, “acrylic will look solid, opaque, where oil looks like little red or blue jewels suspended in the medium. You can see light going through it, like the effect of stained glass.” Luminosity is an extremely important element in my current work.
JJLJ: What continues to be a source of inspiration for your work?
DM: Nature, the natural world, is my primary inspiration. The seasons are especially moving to me. I grew up in rural areas of Connecticut and New Jersey, so experiencing the seasons was part of my life and connected me to nature in a profound way at an early age. As an adult, I’ve lived in places without 4 seasons for a couple of decades (Tucson, Arizona, and then Hawaii). Now that I live in the mountains of Northern New Mexico, I am rediscovering the joys of watching time pass through seasonal shifts, and that is a humbling, yet comforting, experience.
I also am inspired by the work of other artists, particularly abstract art. I am fervently devoted to abstraction, and I’m always looking at what other artists are doing to express their ideas in an abstract language. I am constantly looking at art, whether it’s in museums, galleries, on the internet, in books, magazines, etc. Santa Fe is a remarkable place to live – it’s one of the top art markets in the US and it’s also surrounded by gorgeous scenery. So my inspiration is continually nourished by both of these things.
Music also influences and guides me as I work. In the studio, I listen almost exclusively to early vocal music, usually 11th-13th century, and mostly I prefer compositions sung by women. Hildegard von Bingen is my favorite composer, but I also listen to early English, French, and Italian compositions. The music transports me as I paint, and I feel this ancient and sacred connection to an earlier time. I think the purity of this music transcends time and helps to keep me focused on the purity I wish to impart to the viewer through my paintings.
JJLJ: Is there anyone who has played a significant role in your career?
DM: In high school, I was very blessed to have an art teacher, Laurence von Beidel, who took me seriously. He encouraged me and made sure I had the best oil paints and sable brushes to work with. I had a pretty rough time in high school, and art was my salvation and my refuge. Later, during my first year of art school at the University of Arizona, I had a professor who changed my life – Sam Scott. He introduced me to abstraction, and what being an abstract painter was all about. Sam continues to be a mentor to me – he lives in Santa Fe and we still get together and talk about art and career issues.
JJLJ: What are you currently working on?
DM: Over the past couple of years my style has evolved from organic/biomorphic abstraction into purely geometric abstraction. So I have been busy building up a new body of work. As I’ve explored the purity and clarity of geometric form, I find myself leaning more and more toward a minimalist viewpoint. I’m very excited about this shift in my work – I was involved with the more organic forms for over 15 years. I feel it’s important to keep expanding and evolving as an artist, although sometimes it’s scary to venture out of our comfort zones and established working methods.
I’m also getting involved in The Cradle Project. Artists from all over the world are making cradles to raise money to help the children of Africa. I went to an exhibition recently which highlighted some of the cradles that are being created, and it’s a wonderful and exciting project. Some of the cradles are functional; most are just exquisite works of art that incorporate the idea of holding and protecting. You can find out more about the project at http://www.thecradleproject.org/ I’m encouraging all artists to get involved.
An interesting connection here: I went to the Sahara in March of 2006, just when I was beginning to feel a change coming in my work – a movement away from organic abstraction and toward the clarity and perfection of geometry. Camping in the deserts of Niger with a group of Tuareg nomads, I was profoundly affected by the harsh beauty of the Sahara. I felt stripped bare of all unnecessary elements in my life and in my work. When I returned to my studio, I felt the definitive shift toward geometric order. I had also been moved by the plight of African children, how isolated they are and the reality of the desperate futures that await them. I came home wanting to do something for them, and by coincidence found out about the Cradle Project.
Sahara, oil on canvas, 30x30 inches (© 2007 Diane McGregor)
JJLJ: How do you see your work influencing others?
DM: There is so much suffering in the world. Through my paintings, I hope to invite people into a visual experience of beauty, peace, and tenderness. I want to remind people of the fragile beauty of the natural world. I seek to connect the viewer with their very deepest sense of who they are and why they are here.
Love Letter, oil on canvas, 8x8 inches (© 2007 Diane McGregor)
JJLJ: What is the strangest or funniest comment or question you've ever gotten about your work?
DM: Well, it’s not strange or funny, but it’s one of the more memorable comments I’ve gotten. I was having a solo show at the Las Cruces Museum of Art (in Las Cruces, New Mexico). Just before the opening reception, I was standing outside admiring the sky – the sunset illuminated the undulating clouds in such a way that the sky looked like one of my paintings. A security guard at the museum was standing next to me. She told me she wasn’t able to understand my paintings at first, but after seeing those clouds she really “got it.” She was so excited about this newly-formed connection to abstraction – she was beaming. And, of course, so was I. As artists we are primarily communicators, and sometimes abstract artists have a tough go in being understood by the general public. I was delighted at having been able to communicate my reverence for Nature’s beauty with an abstract vocabulary.
JJLJ: What is your idea of personal success?
DM: It sounds trite, but: “To love what you’re doing, and to do what you love.” If you can wake up each morning, loving your life, loving what you have to do, that is success.
JJLJ: Are there any links you would like to share?
DM: Yes. My website. The Cradle Project. A great career resource for artists is : Alyson Stanfield's blog. The Astronomy Picture of the day is truly inspiring. And The Wildlife Center is an organization that I am very involved with.
JJLJ: Thank you, Diane for contributing to InnerViews. We wish you continued success and look forward to following your career.
DM: Thank you very much, Jennifer. It's been a pleasure.
For more information on Diane's work, please visit her website.