Saturday, April 18, 2009

Interview by Riki Moss with Diane Gabriel

RM: You've had a memorable career working in different media: stuffed dolls, soft sculpture, metal sculpture, monoprints, books, drawing, photography - your holga prints are currently exhibited at 215 College Street. What strikes me is a similarity of vision that is clear, focused, and yet at the same time mysterious and dark no matter what material you use.

DG: I had a rich, dramatic childhood. My work comes from my experiences and my memories of them.

I work in different mediums because it never occurred to me that I couldn't or shouldn't. In this I was influenced by my dad. He was the kind of man who tinkered, he fixed cars, kept up a small boat in Sheepshead Bay. Together we made sinkers, melting lead on the kitchen stove, we scrapped barnacles, sanded and varnished the boat. I was the oldest kid, there were no sons, so we did these sort of things together. At the same time he was a very large, difficult, demanding man, very critical, and controlling. I had a lot of practice watching, observing and being sensitive to his moods. When I was fourteen he suffered the first of many illnesses which further added to the drama, (some might say trauma), in our home.

My mom is a remarkable person. She is very cultured with enormous energy, stamina and imagination. She has always encouraged my work. The outings I most remember with her were going to the library and seeing foreign films. I was not so much a Disney kid as a Bergman one. My mom was always reading as was my grandmother to whom I was very close. Being a French Jew born so soon after the Holocaust also had a great impact on me.

RM: Are you playing with time? I'm thinking of the sculpture of the child's shoe, I'm thinking of this little girl in front of the tree frozen in time. I'm thinking of several dark, scary photos of kids at play who seem far older than their years.

DG:As I age time becomes more and more important to me. My memories seem richer, more real than today. The world of today is moving too fast to make memories. It feels transitory to me. I don't know why this is so. The best I can do is to make art, make something solid and real. In its nature photography always references time.

The shoe to which you refer is made of tea bags, encaustic and hawthorns. It was included in an exhibition titled, Fairy Tales and Other Assumptions, my commentary on the War in Iraq. Tea has been my drink of choice and I've saved teabags for many years. At first it was the shades of brown they made when dried that interested me. However, when opened each teabag reveals a particular pattern unique to that tea bag, that period of time. I came to think of them a little maps of time. Incidentally, (or maybe not), it is the used tea from the bags I used to tone the photographs in the current exhibit.

RM: You've lived in New York, you've lived in Vermont: has the bucolic environment affected you?

DG: Moving to Vermont, where I began to grow food, has had tremendous influence on me. You might say it rooted me, nurtured and sustained me body and soul. Interestingly I am in NYC as I write this. Part of me just can't see how people live like this, with the noise and lack of space.

RM: You quote Diane Arbus in your statement at your most recent show: what about her interests you?

DG: I find her comments to be very true. For example her statement that,"every family is really a little creepy". I just find that flat out true and evident. I mean how can any group of people manage to live together without making little agreements, little weird accommodations among themselves which permit them to live together for extended times? My little agreements are unique to me and will quite naturally strike someone else as weird - as will the agreements others have made which are unique to them. I think she really saw things other people didn't see. Also I don't think her photographs caused her suicide. I think untreated periomenopause did - remember there were no anti-depressants in those days.

RM: Do you see any resemblance between yourself and the other Diane Gabriel - I've been googling you - who won best in show at the Circleville, Ohio Pumpkin show with her plate of hulled lima beans?

DG: While I don't care for limas, I'm crazy for fava beans! But thanks for asking!