THE TIES THAT BIND
By Michele Corriel
Within Diana Tremaine’s paintings resides a struggle between the perfectly rendered image and the raw, undone threads that tie her to the work. There’s a tension between elements finished and those left undone that speaks to the human dilemma.
Her layers of paint float in and out from the surface. In places, the naked canvas is bared to reveal its beginning, left like ticks on a clock, to echo, to erase, to imagine.
“I’m not trying to make a political statement,” Tremaine says. “I’m interested in trying to elevate the beauty of a moment. I feel it’s the artist’s job to shed light on what is being overlooked. And I think the beauty and power of what we already have is being overlooked.”
In a 4-foot-square piece called Long Summer Shadow, Tremaine portrays an image of a young girl in midswing, her eyes closed, leaning back, stretching her legs and lost in her own world of flight. The sun refracts across her body, the lines of the swing’s chains against the shadows of the poles. The girl’s head is thrown back, uninhibited, her hair suspended in momentum as a layer of deep brown underpaint drips down the image. Tangled up in the conflict of image and abstraction, of light and yearning, of equal parts joy and loss, the image signifies a theme in Tremaine’s work.
Planes of light in her Belgrade, Montana, studio beam through the slanted openings of the roof — revealing a slice of sky, emboldened clouds — and from the wall, tall rectangular windows frame peeks of untamed grass. Paintings in various stages of finish seem in open conversation with each other. Tremaine’s easel is set diagonally from her workbench, where brushes stand at attention. Small smears like shorthand edge her paper palette. Nearby she sets two ceramic cups on a cloth. Her momentary still life pits representational versus breakdown and defacement.
She starts, as she always does, with a layer of thin, transparent raw sienna that covers most of the canvas.
“Sometimes I cover the entire canvas and sometimes I leave a bit of white canvas,” she says, touching her brush to a color. “That white may stay that way throughout the process, although it’s not preconceived.”
After the transparent brown, she applies an opaque gray.
“I want some marks to pop off and float,” she says. “But the whole process is about responding to the layer before. The day I put the gray over the raw sienna, it’s all about my mood and bears no relationship to what will go over the top.”
Next to her brushes is an array of squeegees, knives and small rubber pulls, for dragging paint across a surface.
“I like to have fun with my marks,” she says. “Some will remain and some won’t. It’s a balancing act of representing the subject and allowing myself to have fun with my marks.”
Abstract painter Babbie Burrows met Tremaine 13 years ago.
“She was teaching next to my studio and we began to look at each other’s work,” Burrows says. “I am astonished at her growth. I think she’s gotten to the point where I find her work really thrilling, and I’m a tough critic.” Burrows recently visited Tremaine’s studio to see her new body of work.
“She has the ability to create light in every one of her paintings,” she says. “I’ve seen her work develop from the more realistic into the way it is now … more of an abstract feeling that includes representational images. I know abstraction pretty well and she does a remarkable job of combining the two in order to make her point.”
Aside from Tremaine’s mastery of drawing, her awareness of each mark and each brushstroke, Burrows appreciates Tremaine’s use of space within the composition.
“I also think her subjects are complex and her colors are developed,” Burrows says. “If you look at the composition as a whole, you can see the originality in the way she poses her figures. She’s a hard worker. It’s always been her passion and she’s a dedicated and committed artist.”
The sharp tang of turpentine sweeps through the studio as Tremaine adjusts the small square board on her easel. The underlayers are already applied. She loads a small brush with a transparent brown. This is the sketching phase. The roundness of the cups finds its purpose on the surface. In dark curves, wide and relevant, she ushers color into the work, a rough guide to find the form.
She uses a circular motion on the board with a towel dipped in turpentine, leaving the emptiness of the cup in a swirl and whisper of paint. A simple action, but one that implies essentialness: how each of us desires to be filled. And all the while drips of paint surrender to gravity, leaving suggestions of color behind.
Tremaine finds a light green on her palette for the other cup and slowly arcs the brush along her sketched line.
“I like the interplay of opaque and transparent so I constantly go back and forth,” she says, dabbing her brush into the paint again. “I also feel my way around in the painting, trying to decide what to leave and what to develop, what’s important.”
Her background in drawing pushes her to precision painting, to render something as perfectly as possible. But her painterly self struggles to stay loose, to grasp the abstract and allow it to come to the fore. So she also asks herself if the painting is working emotionally, not just compositionally.
“It’s always a dialogue within me whether to render something beautifully or to cut loose,” she says, picking up the squeegee. “It’s my personal battle to get out of myself.”
It’s with the squeegee that she’s found a way to let go. While the paint is still wet, she swipes the rubber edge across the green cup. Like a windshield at the first rain, the image slides just a bit. It’s still a cup, but it’s more than that. It’s the memory of a cup.
And that’s when she stops for the day.
“I always stop, whether I’ve been painting for two hours or five hours, when I make a mark that gives me a shot of adrenaline,” she says. “At that point I must put down my brushes because it makes me want to come back to the studio the next day.”
This summer Tremaine’s solo show, The Ties That Bind, will be up at the Gallatin River Gallery, in Big Sky, Montana. It will include all manner of ties: emotional, psychological and physical.
“I’m really excited about the show,” says gallery owner Julie Gustafson. “She’s choosing these very challenging compositions with form, lighting and value that are almost reduced to abstract paintings.”
After years of concentrating on figurative and wildlife art, Tremaine has added to her vocabulary and this show is the culmination of that work.
“It’s going to be pretty diverse,” Gustafson says. “She loves the theme, ties that bind, and she’s exploring it on a lot of metaphorical levels: owls, trumpeter swans, her daughter, her horses. … She’s pushing her imagery and she’s really moved forward in the way she approaches a painting. She lets it flow as her process is revealed. Each painting is so powerful.”
ONES TO WATCH
By Michele Corriel
When Diana Tremaine paints geese it makes us feel like part of the sky, gives us the urge to rise, to maybe, just maybe, cut through a cloud and find our way home. Her paintings are not merely representations of geese, swan or horses, instead they are responses to the natural world. The sky is full of obstacles, potential impediments, but the blueness of the infinite pushes us on.
She does this by leaving traces of her journey through-out the painting. The dangers of flying are supplanted by our own fears, which come across through the history of her paint. These open areas, small glimpses into her process, expose the emotional underpainting, and reveal the original intent of her work.
"I use a palette knife or a squeegee to pull the paint through itself to create an atmospheric space, to integrate the literal and the non-literal," she says. "I leave some of the very first brushstrokes so there are always holes that go back to the beginning of the painting. The energy I felt when I started the painting. It allows the brushstrokes to stay with me, which contain a tremendous amount of psychological content in a way that hold equal importance to me - and maybe more - than the subject.
She wants the layering process to remain part of the painting, starting with a neutral ground, with every new layer Tremaine leaves a bit of the prior stratum showing.
I find paint compelling, the way it sits on the canvas and on top of itself," she says."its just beautiful to me. when you have opaque paint sitting on top of transparent paint it creates tremendous depth of field. It creates one plane (of existense) that sits on top of another.
Those little areas of unexpected depths that happen in an opening of the surface of the image, allow the viewer to go deeper into the painting, enhancing our experience with her work.
Tremaine is represented by the Gallatin River Gallery, Big Sky, Montana and Two Mon Gallery, Nashville, Tennessee.
“Glow” by Diana Tremaine
Montana artist Diana Tremaine emphasizes that her equine images are about much more than just horses. “Because they’ve been such a prevalent part of history, it feels to me as though they’ve witnessed all the worst aspects of mankind, in wars where they’ve fought for us, and the best of mankind,” she explains. “I just feel that they have every emotion recorded in their very being, and it comes out when you look in their eyes. My paintings are about expressing the broader human experience.” To convey this idea, Tremaine typically works in a monochromatic palette and crops in close to the horse’s head, leaving only one eye visible. This creates an element of mystery, she says, where the viewer can ponder the known versus the unknown.
The artist grew up in New York City and lived in Los Angeles for 14 years before relocating to Montana in 2000. She feels that the environments of her formative years influenced her artistic vision to lean toward the contemporary side, as in her piece glow, which features a horse bathed in bright orange. “I like the juxtaposition between that hot, intense palette and the strong but mellow-looking horse,” she says. See her work in a solo exhibition this month at Gallatin River Gallery in Big Sky, MT. Tremaine is also represented by Visions West Gallery, Bozeman and Livingston, MT, and Center Street Gallery, Jackson, WY.
Featured in “Artists to Watch” March 2006
We’ve only recently covered the programming at the Two Moon Gallery, but as the space plays host to a new pair of artists who specialize in nature-inspired work, we seem to be discerning a pattern. Haden Pickel is a local painter whose impressionistic spaces are nearly always populated by graceful bodies that seem to sprout from canvases as naturally as grasses and trees.
Diana Tremaine is based in Bozeman, MT., and her intense mottled studies of birds in flight or foraging foxes imbue her subjects with consciousness and spirit. Tremaine’s best work sets charcoal drawings against abstract fields of oils, disrupting traditional natural scenery to evoke a creature’s place in an eternal, mythic continuum. Tremaine will attend the reception. Opening reception 5-9 p.m. at Two Moon Gallery. Through Nov. 4.
Communing With Nature