After I wrote in a recent post about how, in the mid-eighties, seeing Basquiat's work caused me to stop exhibiting my paintings, a Facebook friend responded: " ...too bad, but understandable. You shouldn't have stopped, Carol."
Maybe, but I had to.
Looking back, I know I absolutely could not have worked out what I did if I’d stayed in the ring. I needed to abandon all other considerations, all other expectations. Success gets a bad rap these days but in its right place, I’m all for it. The success I had early on was the encouragement I needed to define myself as an artist. Success can often make you bigger and better, as you rise to occasions, meet expectations, and surprise yourself by going beyond them. It made me an artist. But then there came a time when the only way to get at the nub of what I was doing was to give it all up, even actively work against any possibility of outside interest. With no one watching, I had complete freedom to fail—or maybe “flail” is a better word. That 10-year period of working undercover culminated in the journal paintings, and another significant burst of public activity that lasted several years. The final paintings in that series, exhibited at Gary Snyder in 2002, represented the apex of more than 30 years of work. Afterward, having developed them as far as they could go, I needed to regroup, start from zero. This meant withdrawing again, as I felt unable to “find myself” or evolve as an artist in public. I'm not saying this is true for everyone, just what was true for me, and not a path I'd necessarily recommend, as it can be rather uncomfortable. It has helped that writing, an activity I see entirely as "research" for my painting, has enabled me to stay in the general conversation, whether my painting is or not. And believe me, all this is clear only in retrospect; I had no idea what I was doing at the time or why. It was simply what I had to do to keep my process interesting to me, to keep it alive and myself engaged. And right now I’m more engaged than ever. I’m also confident that I’ve finally learned enough about myself and my process that I can sustain it in or out of the public eye.
Carol Diehl, Resolutions (Blue Quad), 2002, oil on canvas, 96" x 82".
Carol Diehl, untitled (as yet), 2013, graphite and ink on paper, 12" x 16".