Madison painter Diane Washa’s newest body of work “Of Water, AIr, and Poerty” Perspectives en Plein Air opens next Friday. Diane’s work is characterized through her contemplative nature and spontaneous approach to painting. We were excited to have a chance to ask Diane a little bit about her process and her inspiration.
All things move toward light, oil on canvas
I rose from marsh mud, oil on canvas
Have you always been interested in portraying the landscape, how did you come to focus on this as your subject? And can you articulate what draws you to a particular composition?
As a kid, playing outside was my primary interest, so making art in plein air as an adult was a perfect extension of that fond childhood memory. Nestled on eight acres of wooded land our home also butted up against a county park which meant I had tons of southeastern Wisconsin landscape to explore and observe.
I’m not particularily creative so having a willing subject like Mother Nature, who says ‘Diane, watch how I’m going to light up the sky. See how the light is hitting the land? And how about those gorgeous shadows; is that something or what? Are you ready to paint? Get going girl!’
It’s that type of inspiration that draws me to a composition. In other words, the natural world reveals itself to me, which I then interpret and express two dimensionally with a paint brush.
When do you know when a painting is finished?
To quote a fellow landscape artist, Barb Hayden, ‘I know when a painting is done, when I can stand next to it without being embarrassed to say I created it’.
‘It takes two people to paint … one person to create the art and another person who tells you when to stop’. (Source unknown.)
To quote Jon Wilde … ‘That one is done Washa … start a new one!’
My friend tree, oil on panel
Seriously, this is a great question!
In my opinion, knowing when a painting is finished is something you learn over time. Some paintings are never finished. For me, that’s especially true on large canvases. When working big you need a game plan … you need to know where you’re going. It’s like building a house - you need a foundation, walls, floors, ceilings, plumbing, etc. And once those things are in place, you can then do the finished carpentry work.
Working larger also forces you to have a vision of what you want the finished piece to look like. I’m getting better at envisioning and executing a vision, but I’m a long way from mastering that skill. That’s what really excites me about my current artistic trajectory. I’ve been lucky to capture design elements or painting techniques in some of my plein air studies where I think ‘Wow, that was fun. I don’t know where that came from but it really works. Good job’. The challenge now is applying and/or incorporating those successes into new pieces and doing it consistently. And again, that takes practice, practice and more practice!
Finally, another element of knowing when a piece is finished involves taking risks. In plein air competitions (FYI … I really dislike associating ‘making art’ with ‘competition’ but that’s a topic for another discussion!) and/or getting ready to show work in an exhibition, I tend not to take as many risks and that’s not good. Making art is about unleashing your creativity, taking risks and learning from your mistakes (and successes)!
What is influencing your work at the moment?
For the last several years I’ve been attracted to the works of Mark Rothko, Gerhard Richter and Larry Poons. Weird, right? Richter sort of makes sense because he works in realism and abstraction, but Poons and Rothko … go figure. A few years ago, I reproduced a large color field piece by Rothko and was amazed how difficult it was to complete. As they say, if you think ‘Anyone can paint that’ try it, it’s not that simple! I sold that piece (as a reproduction) but to this day I miss sitting in front of it getting lost in the color. Now that all the work for the ‘of water, air and poetry’ exhibit is finished, my next painting will be another Rothko reproduction.
After that I’ll be exploring ways to merge my traditional landscapes, grounded in realism, into abstraction like Poons and Richter. I’m not sure how I’ll achieve that yet but I’m hoping I’ll learn something new as I work through my next Rothko. In any event, I’m looking forward to experimenting with new techniques, taking risks and making a whole bunch of really bad paintings which eventually morph into works of art I can ‘stand next to’!
If you could have one work of art from museum or private collection in your home what would it be?
That’s impossible to answer because my taste is so eclectic and I love so many different types of artist. But here’s my short list, in no particular order … Rothko, Richter, Poon, Van Gogh, Remington, Chase, Sargent, Payne, Sorolla, Gray, etc.
Oh late fall marsh, oil on panel