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The Muse's Storage Box

The Muse's Storage Box
Copyright Diane Lou.

Alchemical Dreams and Disparate Realities

Rust and bones, broken toys and old text, game boards, gears and nests. Even as a child such odd, unwanted items evoked a pit-of-the-stomach response that bordered on exhilaration.
While I make no attempt to conjure up specific feelings in the viewer, the ambiguous juxtapositioning of familiar materials creates art that evokes half-forgotten, dream-like visions that beg to be interpreted by the viewer. There is a sense of deja vu (the already seen) tempered by a sense of jamais vu ( the never seen, or the illusion that the familiar does not seem familiar), and this contradiction asks the viewer to dig deeply, to look inside her own repository of wisdom, intuition and experience to find her own meaning in the familiar objects she sees.
The once-private discards of people's material lives that I collect for my art seem to carry universal memories with them, memories that can engage and mystify the viewer. Their beauty lies within the rust, the erosion, the wear, and the mere fact that they were once possessions.
I play with abandon and with no forethought. Each piece of detritus seems to suggest to me a relationship with some other piece, and I begin to put them together and wait for the mental "buzz" that lets me know I am proceeding as I should. Even at this point, I continue to remain in the play state and will not allow myself to direct the outcome of the piece, a process that requires complete trust. The outcome often mystifies me as much as it might any viewer.
Remember when, as a child, whatever was in reach became the instrument of your creative exploration? That is my life. A rusty, flattened piece of metal on the street, a gnawed bone by the roadside, a unique twisted branch from a tree, a fallen nest, a broken egg, a snake's skin, a dead butterfly...all will be added to my collection and eventually have their beauty honored in one of my pieces. The resulting art creates a new story with its own imagined history, one that invites the viewers to lay some claim on it by allowing themselves to be enveloped by the sight, the history, and the ambiguity of the realities before them.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

We're home...

I apologize for the empty period on the blog while I was hospitalized, but we came home on Thursday (could have Wednesday except that they couldn't find a pain med I could take at home that didn't nauseate me), so I'll be getting back into everything gradually.  Blogging is a great activity for recovery actually.  It doesn't take much energy at all, you get to put your thoughts down,  and later on, you can look back and see how spaced out on the pain meds you really were!
During the period when they kept trying oral pain meds on me, several induced hallucinations.
They were completely bizarre...some creative and some horrific. One was beyond wonderful.
I think I had mentioned that I was listening to a pre-surgery CD for about 2 weeks prior to surgery, and then again post surgery (it contained tracks for both).  It helped with pre-surgery anxiety, and then helps with healing afterwards. 
Anyway, listening to it in the hospital during my hallucination phase, I closed my eyes and suddenly I was about 60-80 feet above a stage looking down on a beautiful set of reds, blues and purples and a floor full of dancers in flowing costumes.  As the dancers moved, their motions created fractal-like designs, and the costumes  gradually changed colors as the background music on the CD changed (yes, all the choreography moved with the music on my healing CD). They had me on so many drugs at that point that my first thought was, "I didn't realize there was a video with this CD." (Funny....)
At that point I realized I was seeing my own response to the music and that my own brain had created the stage sets, costumes and complex choreography.  It was wonderful seeing it, and yet being awake enough to realize that.  I experimented to see if I could open my eyes and go back to it, and I could...and I could "fly" around to look at it from different perspectives.
I had 20 minutes of that, and it was pure pleasure.
Anyway, now we are home.  I am far exceeding any expectations the Dr's had of how I would feel (quite good), I am not in pain, I am relatively mentally clear (thanks to IV Vit C to clear anesthetic out of me after surgery) and I feel like my recovery has already moved way ahead.  The Dr saying I wouldn't feel like myself for 6 months, is not even close to reality.  In fact, later today I want to go check on the garden and studio, and see if I gained some new ideas for future work.
So glad to be back!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Fall and Flickr

Perfection...the fall we are being gifted with this year.  Day after day of sunny, clear, cool days with crisp, chilly nights. I'm delighting in  each one, wringing each moment dry.  In a few days, I'll be under the knife, and then, for a bit of time, I won't be running up and down the hill to check on the garden or to play in the studio.

Thankfully my dear friend Jan who helped me get through recovery (via email) from the last surgery (as she was recovering from her own) has helped me once again by introducing me to Flickr.
Yes, I'd gone there to view Jan's art but hadn't really considered becoming involved or posting my art until she nudged a little.
If you think Facebook is a time passer (think black hole), try Flickr.  There are hundreds of thousands if not millions (my guess) of pieces of art to look at and to leave comments on. Some
are mediocre, some excellent.  There are friends and contacts to make and to email. With it being an international art community,  I am now in contact with people from France, Germany, England and Nova Scotia as well as Portland...and that's in just two days!

Truly, what a gift right now.  Even while I am spending those days in the hospital, I can use my laptop and distract myself from tubes and discomfort and enter into a never-ending, ever-changing world of art!  Thanks, my dear friend.

P.S. My Flickr name is assemblageartist (can't believe no one had it). Jan's is akaLunaMoonbeam 

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Another piece....

Around the outer edge of the inner box is the following sentence, cut from words in a book:
"I cry in the time of the new moon, a roaring heart in the night season, my bones are like melted wax, and all I am poured out like water from my mother's breasts."
The pine needle nest has rusted nails protruding, and the pendulum does indeed swing.
(Mother's Milk, copyright Diane Lou.  Approximately 24x14x5")

The Secret

I have always loved shrines and reliquaries, and actually just love the words themselves.  They evoke something mystical, secretive and enticing...and they invite search and discovery.

In November and December, the Corvallis Art Center will have a show called Shrines and Reliquaries which I am happy to be a part of with this piece.  The box that became the reliquary was found on a good day at Goodwill.  This old black box with metal corner protectors and a replaced handle nearly flew off the shelves into my hands a few days after I found out about the show.  I knew immediately that this was the beginning of my piece.

It sat on my worktable for a week or two, open and in an upright position while I waited for inspiration.  The first thing that came to me was to divide the right hand side, so I cut a piece of foamcore and made a shelf.  The second thing was to use some frayed canvas with a transfer of old text on it as a background for the left side.  (Sorry, the detail is pretty limited in this photo).

From that point I started playing with the left side, using an old tintype, a small black box, some buttons, and other things.  The lower right meanwhile began filling with an assortment of torn letters/secrets, which were then rolled up, tied and glued into place (a source of huge frustration to many).  I like having the viewer so want to pull them out and open them up and read them.  It evokes an emotion similar to peeking into someone else's private things. Sort of scary and anxiety-producing, but very alluring too.

The top right filled with a favorite family photo of mine of my great grandparents, their homestead on the plains of Kansas, and a few of their 16 children.  The sense of desolation
in the photo (and the empathy I feel for my great-grandmother) have always been very powerful to me, and I have used the photo in several art pieces.  A bottle dangling in the center of the roof-like space holds another "secret" written in Braille. 

Another glorious fall day here.  I'm off to walk to the garden to see if it frosted there.  It was 34 this a.m. at the house.  Enjoy the day!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Drawer #7...or 280-285-290-295

As I prepare to go in for major surgery on the 16th, I find myself on a creative roll again (normal for this time of year...and no, I am not always in the mood to create art).  I have a couple shows I am jurying into, so have been eager to get some pieces done.

This piece, originally titled  A Book about Death (for the show of that name), has morphed some from when I first photographed it, into what you see here.  It is a piece filled with gifts from friends....the marvelous red drawer front and bone handle for the net from Deb, the dried roses from Marlene, the skull from Xena, and the rusty square behind the 7 ball is from Nils's old studio.  All is contained within a metal lid from a little trunk (19"x12"), and the ornate grillwork on the front is actually plastic (once part of a dollhouse) made to look like rusted metal using a metal rusting product.

It so satisfying when a piece finally says to me, "yes, I'm done, so now you can move on."  I have several more I am eager to show you in the days ahead.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

La Plage

On Friday, Nils and I took a mini-break to the coast, to Cannon Beach.  If you don't live around here, I'll just tell you that Cannon Beach is an appealing, adorable and artistic little beach town which has the added benefit of being right beside Haystack Rock, one of the largest monoliths in the world.  The rock sits just offshore, close enough to overwhelm you with its size and energy, and also close enough to walk to at low tide.

But I digress....On each trip I have made to Cannon Beach, I have had to stop and admire a building right on the main street that is whimsical, creative and looks sort of like a piece of my found object art grown to full size.  It looks as if it was built from all sorts of unusual pieces that were integrated into the building as they were found.  The exterior is weathered wood, ornate woodwork, shaped shingles, stained glass, odd window get the picture.  In a way, it looks like it grew there, and in a way it did.

The building is a studio/gallery but it has never been open when I have been there.  Saturday we lucked out and found the artist was having an opening that day.

It would have been a disappointment to walk in and find the inside nothing like the outside....or to find uninspired art inside...but it was anything but disappointing.  The tiny gallery/studio (about 10' wide and 20' long) was rustic wood inside too, and in the overhead rafter area, there were huge carved wooden supports.  A tiny loft was above the back part of the gallery, and there an Australian shepherd  watched the people below through the railing, and behind him was a tiny woodstove and a comfortable overstuffed chair.

The art on the walls was whimsical and fantastical, created by a man in his 70's with a gentle but self-assured manner. One painting was entitled, "The Floating Pirates", just to give you an idea of the type of thing he created.  The artist's son entered with two exquisitely detailed bronze creations of the father's.... fabulously playful jousting knights in armor on amazing horses...and the artist burst into a genuine smile.  He had not yet seen the creations fully cast and finished.

Then, as we were leaving, we spied the artist's "studio"...a 6x6' space in the corner with windows behind him.  Shelves holding brushes, colored pencils, and paints surrounded his chair at about elbow-length.  His work table was about 3' wide and only 18" deep, and it apparently swiveled out to let him into his tiny work space.  It was a picture of efficiency and of someone knowing exactly what he needed to do his art.

 We both walked out with smiles on our faces.  I realized that it is too seldom that we encounter such a cohesive and charming "package" in this world of too much, too new, too big, too commercial.  My hat is off to you, William Steidel.

(La Plage, copyright Diane Lou. )

Saturday, October 3, 2009


Several years ago when I lived in my little beach cottage on the Oregon coast (B.N.---before Nils came into my life), I was taking my almost daily beach walk when,  as I looked down the coastline, I saw something large on the beach.  As I got closer, I realized it was this magnificent sandcastle.  No one was around putting the finishing touches on...and no one was standing around admiring it, as I soon would be.  It was over 6' tall and enchanting in detail.  
The waves were beginning to erode the lower levels when I first saw it, and a sense of immediacy came over me.  I had to get a photo of this...but,  of course, my camera was safely at home several blocks away, and I had walked to the beach, not driven.  With adrenaline flowing, I walked as fast as I could back up the beach and the several blocks home, grabbed my camera and drove back to the beach access.  All that time, I feared a little boy like my grandson would take a big stick and feel compelled to smash the castle, or that the incoming waves would have caused it to dissolve back into granules of sand.
But when I returned all was still intact, the castle was being ignored by all but me, and I was able to shoot the many shots I wanted of this fabulous creation.  Later it would end up in several pieces of my collage La Mer.
(Photos and art by Diane Lou.)

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Bears and bones...

If you have viewed much of my art, you'll notice I love bones and decaying things.  In fact, if I find a bone in the woods (or if dear friends find them for me), it makes my day because I know that, sooner or later, it will find its way into my art.

A few nights ago, we had gone into McMinnville to have dinner with friends and to hand off a copy of Nils's new book (See post below for description).  By the time we came home on our little narrow dirt road into the forest, it was quite dark.  As we rounded a corner, something large and white and something large and black were suddenly in front of us.

As often happens when we are confronted with something unexpected, it took a few seconds to realize what we were seeing.   But there it was, a huge stripped-of-meat rib cage (cow? elk?) being dragged across the road by a black bear who was barely visible in the surrounding blackness.

It was a rather surreal sight and certainly an unlikely sight, and how I wished I could have had a picture of it that actually captured it in the darkness.  I think you would have loved seeing it.

We haven't seen bear around for quite some time, although this spring when I was picking daffodils by the large pond, the tall grass was very trampled down...trampled by something heavy and broad, not something delicate like deer who usually frequent that area.  Now I suspect the bear inhabits the area because there is water and lots of room to roam unbothered through the forests.  Rather like feeling an earthquake, there is something exciting and wonderful mixed in with any fear that might arise, knowing that the bear is nearby.

No, fall isn't quite as "here" as the picture above suggests.  Last year was the most colorful fall ever, according to Nils, who has lived here 32 years...and this is just one of many of the magical photos he took last year.