Art Vent

Letting the Fresh Air In


Art Vent Letting the Fresh Air In

October 2, 2010
I find I have taken an inadvertent vacation from my blog—not for any particular reason, I just didn’t have any thoughts or opinions, which anyone who has known me for longer than five minutes will find difficult to believe. It happens rarely, but it does happen.

I did go to the Chelsea gallery openings and saw some shows I enjoyed (Joan Snyder, Judy Pfaff, and Jane Rosen) and others I thought were ridiculous (best left unsaid), as well as Gerhard Richter at the Drawing Center in SoHo, which I didn’t love but, regardless, found surprisingly inspiring. I bought the catalogue and when I came back to my studio, all I wanted to do was draw.

I also discovered a new art material: PanPastels.  A while ago, out of the blue, the company sent me some samples to try, and I recently unearthed them. They call them “painting pastels,” and the colors, which are highly pigmented, come in little pots like rouge and are not overly dusty, so it’s like painting, but without the muss and fuss. I love that I can just up and leave the drawing board and when I come back hours later my brushes haven’t gone stiff, and nothing has dried up. They can be purchased in individual colors ($5.14 each at Dick Blick) and in sets, and my only complaint is that the sets don’t really contain what I want (you have to order a set of 20 to get one that contains orange!) and if they do there are duplicates (Payne’s Gray appears in both the gray and the blue sets of five each).  But it’s a small quibble, and every day I compulsively order more. 

Drawing, 9/30/10, graphite and pastel on paper, 9" x 12"

I also became completely hooked on a book—a fascinating, in-depth (875 pages), and completely annotated biography of
Lou Reed on my roof, in a chair by Phillippe Starck. Photo by Christian Coigny for Vitra, ca. sometime in the 90s 
June 1, 2010
Photo: Christian Coigny for Vitra, circa 1995

Today the New York Times published an article claiming that happiness comes with age. Researchers, apparently, are confounded as to why this might be, but anyone who is older than they were yesterday knows that it’s because with experience we learn to appreciate the present, and that nursing old wounds—or new ones—doesn’t serve us. (What they failed to consider, however, is that those who are content may live longer.)

Interesting that this article should be published on the same day as the obituary of someone for whom this was famously not true: Louise Bourgeois who, in her long lifetime, came to her art through replaying the traumas of her early life, and for whom feelings of helplessness and abandonment were just as vivid in her 80s as in childhood. Maybe more so, for all we know.

I first met Bourgeois in the mid-1990s, when I was producing celebrity ads (some of the first ever), a print campaign that ran only in Europe, for the high-end furniture company, Vitra. The celebs ran to the intellectual, and part of my job was to get the famous people to sit in the famous chairs—Martin Scorsese in an Eames chair, Jean Baudrillard (my biggest coup—Baudrillard in an ad!) in a Citterio chair. When we came to her home to photograph Bourgeois in a chair designed by Philippe Starck, she could not have been more gracious, and while the photographer, Christian Coigny, was setting up, she inquired about my painting and introduced me to the writing of Edward T. Hall, whose books came to have an enormous influence on my thinking.

Emboldened by this warm visit, I called to ask if I could interview her for a story in Art & Antiques, and Bourgeois agreed. However this time, she was totally prickly—trying, while I sat with my tape recorder running, every possible gambit to get rid of me (I was later to learn just how much she hated interviews). Finally she said, “I know how we should do this. There’s a book about me that’s all quotes. Go get that book, make a list of the quotes that interest you, come back and we’ll work from there.”

“Great,” I said, pulling the list from my backpack, because that was precisely how I’d prepared, “Shall we begin?”

I never saw Bourgeois nonplussed again, but from that moment we were friends and she was completely cooperative—in fact I could say we co-wrote the article, one of my favorites ever. She gave me complete freedom to shape it, but made many suggestions, all of which were on target, and enthusiastically participated in honing the smallest details.

After that we spent time together and I helped her with a couple of projects, but had to pull away when my time began to look like more hers than mine. She taught me a lot, however, much of it about how to stand up for myself as a female artist. Around that time I also wrote an article for Art & Antiques about my artist great-grandmother, and when I called to check what they’d written in the blurb about me for the contributor’s page, was horrified to find that it read, “Diehl has recently received a grant to do some painting of her own. Will it be in the style of her great-grandmother?” The twenty-something assistant who’d written it didn’t grasp the problem, but pulled it when I told her they couldn’t run the article if it stood (there was no blurb for me in that issue).

That evening I attended the premiere of a film about Bourgeois (which began with her running away from the filmmaker and hiding) and at dinner told her my story. When I said that she’d taught me to have that kind of courage, Bourgeois started pounding the table with her fist saying, “It’s not about promotion—it’s about defending our art! We must defend our art!”

Thank you, Louise.