Friday, October 24, 2008

SO Good Interviews Painter Diane Ayott

Painter Diane Ayott will give a lecture at 2:30 p.m., Tuesday, October 28 in the Wadleigh Library conference room as part of the Visiting Artists Symposium Lecture Series at Chester College of New England. SO Good had the opportunity to ask her a few questions prior to her arrival on campus.

SO GOOD: Do you consider yourself strictly an abstract painter or do you feel that oversimplifies your art and idea?

Diane Ayott: Well, I have been devoted to abstraction for many, many years and I agree with painter, Robert Ryman who stated that this is a very young area in American art, relatively new. There is much yet to explore.

That said, I was trained as an artist in a traditional way. I made a lot of work which dealt with the figure, still life and landscapes. I spent a lot of time drawing and finding form. I committed myself to working from observation for many years. Landscape captured my imagination and I began my exhibition career showing landscape paintings.

SG: Is there a mathematical formula to your paintings? Or is it a type of geometrical explosion?

Ayott: There is no formula at all. One could question my inclusion in the Consequence of Geometry exhibition. And yet, it worked quite well with the other two, more geometric oriented artists. A few years ago I was invited to have my work represented on a curatorial website called Geoform ( It is a site showing the work of geometry driven artists. My geometry, if you want to call it that, is skewed, off kilter. However, it seems to still exist in that category as it does in the area of color based sensibilities.

Although I use a lot of repetition in my work I also allow the work to teeter-totter out of balance. The grid is not used in a measured geometric way at all. I recall Katherine French writing about my work in a brochure for the exhibition, Moment to Moment, at the Danforth Art Museum, “There is nothing minimal in this narrative. Ayott’s use of the grid does not impose a rigid structure over the delicacy of her work. Instead the grid expands to include layers of meaning. It becomes a formal container for emotion, a simple framing device for a composition that is made up of dashes, lines and dots – the most elemental of marks that describe a momentary understanding of true impulse and feeling.”

That was written a couple of years ago when I had just started to skew the grid from the start of each piece of work. Over the last years it has become even more open and the grid is only there through the repeating vocabulary of the visual language and not through any underlying grid structure.

SG: How long is the artistic process of one of your paintings or does it vary?

Ayott: It varies so much. I typically have many works going on at once. When I go into my studio I pick up works on paper if I don’t have much time and save the larger more demanding pieces for when I have large chunks of time available to me. During the academic year it is very challenging to get into the studio and maintain any kind of meaningful momentum but I do my best. There are times when I do not get into the studio for months because of the demands of my work at the college. But this year I have the gift of time because of a sabbatical.

Tell us how you title your paintings. Does the title come before, during, or after?

Ayott: Titles are of great importance for me, an integral part of my creative process. I use a studio work book, which has become very important to me. In it I record notes on my process, studio visits, lists of possible titles, reflections on exhibits, notes on talks, reactions to other artists and I also paste in images and notes, etc. from others.

Does teaching engage your creativity? If so, how?

Ayott: Almost always yes. Many of my students have inspired me in a number of ways and some of those students have become my colleagues. Those students who really want to be artists employ so much discipline to their efforts. When I see this I try to fully meet them where they are and give them the attention they deserve.

I have a great deal of respect for the desire to become an artist and to make better and better work. It is a lonely endeavor and understanding this, I aim to give purposeful feedback. It is a pleasure to be a part of the growth process of young artists. Seeing the development over the course of three – five years is like a miracle to me. Bearing witness to this process is in itself inspirational.

I do sometimes invite students to my studio and share my work and its issues with them. However, my studio life is a solo pursuit and as such it is separate from my work at the college.

SG: What artists have inspired you?

Ayott: Oh Wow! The list is rather long, diverse and incomplete: Anne Truitt, Agnes Martin, Bridget Riley, Julie Mehretu, Jacob El Hanani, Giorgio Morandi, Rachel Perry Welty, Tara Donavan, Robert Ryman, Porfirio DiDonna, Richard Dibenkorn, Fitz Henry Lane, Marsden Hartley, Joan Mitchell, Claude, Monet, Vincent Van Gogh, Jackson Pollock, Lucien Freud, Fairfield Porter, Emille Nolde, Gabrielle Munter, Henri Matisse, Mark Rothko, Cy Twombly, Mattais Grunenwald, David Smith, Adam Fuss, Cecily Brown, Eva Hesse, Susan Rothenberg…And some of my close colleagues and some of my students!

SG: What advice do you have for aspiring artists?

Ayott: Keep working, always keep working. And when times come that do not allow you to work, keep thinking about it. Reflect on your life, your goals and how to make it all work better for you. It is not easy to make your way as an artist in this culture.
Try to obtain and maintain a studio, even if it is a corner of a room. You must have some designated space to call your own.

And finally, do not become isolated. Unless you work in collaboration, being an artist can be a lonely job. So, young artists need to build a community from which they are challenged and nurtured. When you are in school the community is a built in benefit. Once you leave it your life changes and you can find yourself alone and trying to make it all work – life, love, income producing work and maintaining a studio practice. And you should try to show your work wherever possible and schedule studio visits with friends/colleagues. Art making comes out of a context and it is necessary to enrich your community.

I have also found that reading about artists and reading artists writing keeps me in a creative company.

When I was a student I relied on a number of books. Among them are:

The Shape of Content by Ben Shahn
The Art Spirit by Robert Henri
The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh Edited and Introduced by Mark Roskill
Letters To A Young Poet, by Rainer Maria Rilke
Ways of Seeing by John Berger

Just recently a new book has been published entitle LETTERS TO A YOUNG ARTIST by Darte Publishing, NY. It has about 23 contemporary artist letters giving advice in the form of letters. Among those artists are: Alex Katz, Elizabeth Murray, Yoko Ono, Adrian Piper and Jessica Stockholder.

I have found the books written by Anne Truitt to be so valuable to me. And I think many of you will find that they provide great companionship in your lives as artists, particularly for women. Her books are: Day Book, Turn and Prospect.

SG: You have a very accomplished resume, is there a certain exhibition or show that has held a special spot in your heart?

Ayott: Well, there are several which continue to hold specific meaning for me. One solo show at the Time Warner Gallery at Lynn Arts was dedicated to my beloved dad. The paintings I showed there were dedicated to his memory. They were a series of paintings which utilized crossword puzzles, which he loved. The last time I saw him alive was when my family and I were leaving his hospital room the night before the last surgery. He put on his glasses, picked up the crossword puzzle book and pen, proceeding to grapple with solutions. Words were important to him too. This exhibition was called Personal/Pictorial.

And of course the most recent exhibitions are always fresh in the mind. Both versions of the Consequence of Geometry shows were beautiful. They were three person exhibitions and the first one was hosted by the Art Complex Museum in Duxbury MA, curated by Craig Bloodgood and the second just closed at the McCoy Gallery in North Andover, MA, which was curated by David Raymond.

Boston Color at Markel Fine Arts in NYC was a gorgeous exhibit and this was a high point for me. Two of my recent panel paintings, which I will show you at the talk, were included in this show on color. At the same time I was also included in No Chromophobia, also focused on the topic of color, at OK Harris Gallery also in NYC. You can view shots of the Boston Color exhibit at and click on exhibits (past exhibits).

In addition I so enjoyed being in the recent New England New Talent exhibit at the Fitchburg Art Museum in MA. Kristina Durocher is the Chief Curator there and she is wonderful to work with. Her studio visit was a real high point for me. She had a keen eye and a real appreciation for my work. That is always so gratifying when a curator has appreciation and respect for what you are doing as an artist. Katherine French, Director of the Danforth Museum was also a pleasure to work with and these experiences with knowledgeable professionals add to the joy of the exhibitions.

And finally, what do you have planned for the future: galleries, ideas, world domination, etc...?

Ayott: Well, my work will be featured in a magazine called Studio Visit, published by Open Studio Press, Boston this November. This edition was juried by Carl Belz, who was an important curator and collector for the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University. A solo exhibition of my work, Complexity: Paintings by Diane Ayott, will be held at the Towne Art Gallery, Wheelock College, Boston. Curated by Erica Licea-Kane, Gallery Director, this exhibit will be from October 28 through November 22, 2008. And I will be back in NH soon for a group exhibit: The Algorithms of Art, a five person exhibit curated by Deborah Disston, Gallery Director at the Mcininch Art Gallery, University of Southern New Hampshire in Manchester, NH will run from January 19 through February 15, 2009. The opening reception will be on Thursday, Jan. 22 from 5 – 7 p.m. in the gallery. I hope some of you will stop by.

Other than those things I have listed, I will be focusing my energy on making my work and reflecting on what is happening. I have applied for a few residencies and I am awaiting the verdict. I would like to do some domestic traveling this year but money is very tight and I have not been lucky with my grant applications. I am on sabbatical this academic year of 08-09 for which I am very grateful. As always I will prioritize the studio practice over world domination.

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