Distinctly Montana Magazine


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By Michele Corriel

Fine Art painter Diana Tremaine grew up influenced by her aunt and uncle’s well-known art collection.  But it wasn’t the paintings per se that instilled a love of beauty in her.  It was listening to her aunt talk about the work.

“They had some major paintings, a whole room devoted to Andy Warhol, an unfinished Piet Mondrian, a beautiful Miro - a line drawing of a cat - but what I remember most was having my aunt explain it all to me,” Diana says.”My aunt was the heart, guiding the collection on what she felt was moving.”

Eight years old, looking at the color-field work of a Mondrian, she turned to her aunt, who softly, slowly, and with heartfelt enthusiasm explained the value of pure gridded lines and primary colors that threw three-dimensional convention to the wind.

“As she would talk about a painting I could feel her spirit drift off as she described it; the art transported her to a different place,” Diana recalls.  “I could feel how much she was moved and I could easily go there myself.”

At eight years old Diana wasn’t thinking that’s what she wanted to do with her life, but on some level it resonated.  It felt like a


And so the seed was planted.

Her first show, in Los Angeles, while still a student at UCLA, was in the home business of a friend.

“I had a friend who had a hair business in Beverly Hills.  I hung my work there and she sold it to her clients,” Diana says.  “It

was the first time I sold a painting to someone who was not a friend and I felt shocked and thrilled.  I always feel that way.  It’s

shifted a little bit; I feel less shocked and more honored and satisfied.  The process is not complete until somebody is moved by

the work and wants to live with it.”

Until someone can derive the kind of pleasure her aunt instilled in her when she was eight years old.

Diana Tremaine sits on a low couch holding up a book.  Nine women, the sum of her Monday morning painting class,

attentively absorb her meaning.

“It’s the gesture of the glove’s fingers, so keep it loose, “ Diana says, holding up a reproduction of a William Nicholson still life.  This lesson, a follow up from last week’s, centers around a reflective element of still life painting and a limited palette.  “You

might want to forget it’s a glove and only pay attention to the shadows.  I’d like you to push the envelope with the reflective

items.  Push it further than you might be comfortable with.”

The space, Diana’s fairly isolated studio, on the outskirts of Gallatin Gateway, Montana, is crammed with easels and the

seemingly random gathered materials that serve as models.  Windows shedding light from each of the four walls cast a muted

evenness across the space.  Aromatic percolating coffee underscores Diana’s comments as she closes the book and goes around

the room, addressing each painter with comments and suggestions  - praising, but not overly, when appropriate.  Hers is the

tone of familiarity, as well as that of expectations met and those yet to come.

“One of the things that gets people into trouble is attempting to rub off the paint.  That can flatten the work,” Diana says to one

of the painters.  “But in particular, I like the loose brushwork, it’s high contrast but it seems fluid.  A great start.”

She draws her hand across the dry canvas of another painter, where a shadow is yet to be colored.  “Yes, it will be cool, but

don’t forget, there will be warmth as well.”

Moving on, Diana picks up the repetitive patterns in another painter’s work.  “June finds the patterns,, the shadow that the lights

and color make.”  This piece centers on a gold purse, an angular perfume bottle half filled with liquid amber, and several wisps

of ribbon.  And although only partially done, the relationship between the objects jumps from the canvas.  “It’s a beautiful start.  I

love the linear quality of the ribbons.”

As the group shifts from one painter to the next, more input from the other women enters into the conversation.  When it doesn’t, Diana elicits it, so the room beats with thoughtful comments.

“I want you to have a dryer brush’” she tells Sharon.  “And I want you to use less medium, bring more awareness of the under-

painting into the work.  Let the background come through.”

After the student critique session, the painters unknot and gravitate back to their own easels unsnapping lids, unfastening

palettes, unscrewing paint tubes.  An individual pulls Diana aside to discuss frustrations and challenges.  Other conversations

ebb and flow.

“Diana doesn’t impose a style,” student Melinda Winegardner says, pushing out six small dashes of color from her tubes across

the top of her glass palette.  “Diana’s really supportive.”  She explains that all the students are using the same six colors today -

three warm colors and three cool colors - from which they will get an infinite number of colors to work with.  This practice,

while limiting the choices for the painter, unifies the final piece.

Some of the women are tenuous, careful where the tip of their brushes hit the canvas.  Others rush in.  The class, in some form

or another, has been meeting for six years and there is an unmistakable comfort between the women.

After about an hour or so, Diana takes a short break and walks over to he coffee pot.  “Interestingly, I find teaching this class

keeps my own work fresh - you know it’s not like a college course - these people are with me for years, so it’s a challenge to

come up with new things for every session,” she says, reaching for a cup.  “But in so doing, whatever I do here shows up in my

own work.  They feed off each other and it’s hard to say which comes up first.”

Like everyone, Diana has felt various degrees of insecurity about different areas in her life - but there’s always been a part of her that’s never felt that way about her art.  And that harkens back to her aunt’s voice, to her steadfast belief in the role of art and it’s

importance and place in the world.

“Not in a literal translation, but in an abstract way, I guess I do feel my aunt’s presence at times,” Diana says.  “Her

knowingness and conviction, the way she would talk about a painting she loved, there was no room for wavering and so

perhaps what I got from her was that groundedness and belief I have in my own work.”