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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.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Moving towards summer...

This morning Nils will attend the commencement ceremonies at  Linfield, and then another term will be behind us.  As we move towards this luxurious time of summer, the wisteria on the back deck are breathtaking, but fleeting with our unusually warm spring weather.  It is seldom that this time of year would bring us day after day in the 80's, so the azaleas, rhodies and all the other glorious spring blooms are even more treasured.  I didn't even have time to pick a bouquet of lilacs before they were withered and dry. 

But the heat and sun have been a shortcut to garden success, and never, in a lifetime of gardening, have I seen such a picture-perfect vegetable garden.  Everything is super-sized, perfect and delicious, and we look forward to months of home-grown organic food.  Fortunately we built a 7 foot tall deer-proof (we hope) fence around the garden as yesterday I spotted a doe with a very newborn fawn by her side.  After watching deer all my life, I am still always delighted by the fragile beauty and vulnerable charm of the fawns while being amazed by their strength as they run full speed through the forest to keep up with their mothers. 

Summer will bring more time in the studio again, and we both look forward to creating new bodies of work.  Also on the agenda is creating a clay mural for the side of the house, which we will do collaboratively.  My blog will follow the whole process of that creation.

Summer will also bring photos of the studio and some step-by-step views into the process that allows me to create my assemblage pieces (as well as glimpses into the cluttered world that is my half of the studio!).

Monday, May 25, 2009

Show opening

Wednesday night, NW Wines, show opening.  It is always revealing to me to hear people's comments about my work.  It seems I can do the visual part, but even though I am a writer, I cannot seem to verbalize much about what I feel about my work.  John G. called the show "bloody brilliant".  Another viewer called the pieces "springboards to remembering and imagining".  One woman called it "dreamlike and full of mysterious archetypes".  Others commented on the architectural quality when viewed from a distance (yes, I love rooflines and house shapes), then being attracted as they came closer by things that looked familiar to them.  Finally, when viewing up close, the mysteries of the pieces started to reveal themselves as they saw the strange uses of those same familiar objects.

It was a great evening, gathering with friends and college students (and their interest in my work is especially appreciated) as well as strangers who happened to drop by.  Luke Zimmerman's big paintings downstairs captivated viewers too.  Luke had a paper beneath each painting asking for suggestions for titles.  A great way to engage onlookers more fully!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

ffotoggraffi & syzygy

Syzygy and ffotoggraffi....Those two shop names should give you an indication of what a cute little town Manzanita is.  Home of the Trash Art Show and Cart'M recycling center, it is an appealing and trendy little (very little) coastal town with interesting shops and eateries.

The Trash Bash, which was the name of the opening for the Trash Art show, throbbed with live music.  The perfect weather made it all even more festive.  A look inside at the art showed everything from  a resting horse made of old fencing wire to a "painting" which was actually a very weathered piece of plywood, once painted, which had ridden the waves of the ocean for a long time. Truly found art.  There was rusty metal sculpture as well as several permanently decorated cars and much more.

Here, it is among the most beautiful springs I can recall....a true spring, not an extension of endless winter rain, cold and dreariness, but one of warm days, cool nights, showers and sun.  The dogwoods are floating their palm-sized flowers throughout the woods, and their currently leafless branches make the flowers seem unsupported, adding to their dramatic effect.   Fragrant lilacs are blooming as are the breathtaking rhododendron, wisteria and azaleas.  Color and scent are everywhere.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Repurpose on Purpose

This  is the weekend for the Trash Art Show and Trash Bash at Manzanita.  In its 11th year, this great fundraiser draws in huge crowds of locals and tourists alike.  The recycling center there, which sponsors the event, is a non-profit run to a large extent by volunteers. The show is a great way to promote recycling and the arts...and raise money for a good cause.

When I was in Manzanita last week, I saw an amazing dress a woman had made for the show last year....knitted from unraveled cassette tapes (if you are old enough to remember what cassette tapes are).

Our local landfill/recycling center sends out a small newspaper with tips for "repurposing", as well as where to get rid of almost anything you can think of.  They had a great column recently, aimed at kids but perfect for artists least found-object artists.

Their list included such tips as:
~Keep a "possibilities" box to hold items no longer used for their original purpose, or things that are broken.
~Encourage your friends to keep a "possibilities" box so you can have a party and share each other's items.
~Think of as many uses as you can for each item.
~Take things apart to see what interesting pieces and shapes are inside.
~Mix items that may not seem to go together and create something new.

I couldn't help but think a found-object artist had written that list.
Have a beautiful weekend!

Monday, May 11, 2009


Last summer we enjoyed watching a doe, her yearling buck son and her new fawn  living in the forest.  They would often lie down to rest near the goldfish pond, and I'd be startled on my way to feed the fish as my eyes suddenly picked them out of the woodsy camouflage.  As fall came, I thought it unusual that a mother would let her yearling buck remain in the family, but she did.

Hunting season came and during doe season we saw the remains of a fresh carcass dumped on our property, and the same day saw a fawn running frantically back and forth in the area.  I couldn't imagine how the fawn could survive the winter alone being so young.

Although I have no idea what did happen to the fawn or if it was "our" doe who was killed, I made this piece of weathered bones at the time and I'm sure I was influenced by the sadness I felt about the incident.

The bones came from friend Deb's son, who collected them from their woods.  They are nestled into forest leaves and lichens inside the old nativity-scene box.  Each bone has a stamped number attached, like a forensics or biology person might use to identify each one.  Melted candles, a brass bell and an curly bit of decorative iron on the front, reminiscent of a cemetery entry gate, finish the piece.  The silver trim is from a disassembled Mexican piece.

(Photo: Requiem, copyright 2008 by Diane Lou.  18x11x7".  Photo by Nils Lou)

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Serendipitous art...

 This piece, titled  Frustration, is a perfect example of what I call serendipitous art.  

One day, in a half-hearted attempt to clean off my work table, I came across a couple brushes that had dried paint in them, and decided to try out the new brush cleaning compound I had purchased (which does work, by the way).  The old brush snapped while I was scrubbing it, and I turned and tossed it back on the table (surprisingly not in the trash) and turned my attention to brush #2.

Later when I walked by the table, I saw where the brush had landed.  Just as you see it, in a very old, much-used watercolor paint tray. 

I thought it had potential and fastened the paint tray into a black wooden box, and set about to "improve" on it.  I fussed with it off and on for a few days, trying various bit and pieces out, and finally decided it was perfect just the way it was, and that anything I added simply detracted. 

A little lesson in "seeing" and in knowing that simple can also be effective.

(Frustration, copyright 2008 by Diane Lou.  Private collection of Suzie Wolfer.  Photo by Nils Lou.)

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Trash Bash

Recent spring rains have deluged the forest with the needed moisture to ensure Oregon's notorious green, evidenced by the photo at left.  This is a very large bowl (about 3-4' in diameter) made many, many years ago by my husband Nils.  It sits in the forest near our home, and is now beautifully decorated with the moss that has grown on it as it rests on an enormous rotting stump.  

Tuesday my show was hung in the upstairs gallery at NW Wine (326 NW Davis, McMinnville, OR.  Phone 503-435-1295 for hours).   It will be up through May and part of June, and the opening is the 20th.  The downstairs gallery will feature Luke Zimmerman's wonderful paintings.

I'm mildly surprised by how delighted I am to have all these pieces out of my studio, and to have a huge blank wall to hang new pieces on as I work on them.  Freeing up that space seemed to create a vacancy that immediately wanted to be filled with new work.  

Another thing I did yesterday was to sort and go through my collection of "stuff" that I use in my art.  Over time, I forget what I have (and the old saying, "out of sight, out of mind" certainly applies here), and sorting and reorganizing makes it seem like I have a whole new stash.  I cannot put everything into Rubbermaids, label them and put them on shelves.  Things have to be open to viewing...and if they are in Rubbermaids, the lids have to be off so I can readily see and dig.

Speaking of a trash stash, in Manzanita there is a great recycling facility called Cart'M.  Besides recycling, there is a thrift shop there, and also an area where metal items are dumped.  From that area it is possible to purchase old rusty, wonderful things for pennies...all the stuff I love to use in my art.

Anyway, Cart'M has an annual Trash Art Show, kicked off with a Trash Bash which includes food, music and the opening on Friday night (next week).  All art must be made from recycled materials, and will hang until Sunday noon.  It's going to be great fun to see all the found object art in one place.  Go to if you are interested in entering.  

Saturday, May 2, 2009


I have been offered an opportunity to show my work at the upstairs gallery at NW Wine.  It will be the perfect setting for my small, intimate pieces which invite the viewer to move in for a closer look.
The opening is May 20, I believe...definite time and date later.  The hanging is this week so part of the weekend will be spent preparing for that...checking hanging wires and printing labels.  I hope you can come see the work in person once it is up.

This little piece is called The Doorkeeper.  Created from an old red book cover, a scraped and aged checkerboard, part of a picture frame, as well as little detail pieces, the cut-out words on The Doorkeeper read "Witness as the doorkeeper with a proud heart kisses the dark moon."

I love cutting words from old books, shuffling them around on a table, then putting them back together into phrases/poetry/or whatever you want to call it.  This process calls up something different in the mind than sitting down to write on the computer or with pen and paper in hand, and is very stress-free and playful. You will write things you never thought you could!

(Photo: The Doorkeeper, copyright 2008 by Diane Lou.  12x15" Photo by Nils Lou)

Friday, May 1, 2009

What does it mean?

Art historian Brian Winkenweder, PhD. wrote an essay about a recent show of my work.  Upon reading it, I was stunned at his ability to put into words an interpretation of my work that far surpassed my own understanding of it, but which also rang true to my inner self.  I did the art, he put it all into words that I couldn't express myself.

Here is his essay in its entirety.

Brian Winkenweder, Ph.D. October, 27, 2008
Assistant Professor of Art History
Department of Art and Visual Culture
Linfield College

Under Wood

We sat as silent as a stone,
We knew, though she’d not said a word,
That even the best of love must die,
And had been savagely undone
Were it not that Love upon the cry
Of a most ridiculous little bird
Tore from the clouds his marvelous moon.
—A Memory of Youth by W.B. Yeats (1912)

A century ago, William Butler Yeats understood the marvelous power of love lost and that this condition underscores the worst and best features of the human condition. And, our capacity to feel, our willingness to experience life in its fullest grandeur is premised upon this bittersweet reality: love lost is love felt at its most profound and spiritual. So, then, what is one to make of Diane Lou’s assemblages? I believe she hits the same notes as Yeats’ best poetry. Her work, when it succeeds, acknowledges the joy and suffering unique to the experience of being human. Their nostalgic patina of melancholia suggests torpors of unresolved mementos that neither soothe nor satisfy. These collections of detritus function as elaborate rebuses with no final solution.
They elicit tip of the tongue sensations, the elusive name that slips from designation. Her constructions create familiar, even comforting, but strange and uncanny juxtapositions of the homely rendered beautiful through the transformative property of suggestion. The conventional and the unexpected meet face-to-face in a showdown where no victor prevails because the struggle ceases to be based on the traditional polarities of good versus evil, or nature versus culture, or old versus new, or male versus female, or the Apollonian versus the Dionysian. Rather, the dialectic synthesis of such traditional binaries seems to be the impetus that governs the principle of suggestive combinations. A tension emerges that guides the reception of these weird collections of the familiar rendered obscure. Indeed, the struggle between these polarities is the point.
These relief sculptures by Lou are powerful, talismanic combinations that offer no easy solution precisely because such answers seem so obvious as to clearly transcend the precision of Occam’s razor. There is no clear and obvious solution because for all their familiarity, Lou’s art typifies the power of the surreal notion of convulsive beauty. Her reliefs should not be dismissed as mere visual poetics; they are poems unto themselves. They do not operate as prods for the poet; they are the result of a poet at work. And, in this poetry, not only is the artist playing tennis without a net, as Robert Frost suggests, she is playing the game in a context in which the only rule is there are no rules. This work of “Moments” reveals the discovery that can only happen when one suspends the need for intentional outcomes and accepts the abandon of discovery revealed through arrangement.
Lou writes a new kind of calligram that extends beyond the literary impulses of concrete poetry by offering random constructions that defy a coherent syntax, yet beg to be read nonetheless. These rebuses confound us with allusions to concealed secrets which make no sense but profoundly affect our disposition. Sure textual elements occur in most of these visual poems, and at times they coordinate as a primary element that governs our meditation, but never do these texts demand our attention to the point of eclipsing the strength of the visual impact. Yes, like puzzles, these assemblages demand a meditative response in viewers who must ask “what do I see?”, ‘where did these narrative vignettes unfold?”, “when did these moments occur?”, “why did these characters succumb to such an optimistic tragedy?” and “how are these familiar objects transformed into something so strange?”
We all know from whence these objects spring, for they can be found in our grandparent’s attics, the forgotten relics found in our grandmother’s cellars and the discarded artifacts littering our grandfather’s workshops. The materials in play evoke a time and place that we all vaguely recall but perhaps we never directly lived: a family’s collection of stories it tells of past ancestors that change with each iteration. They create a visual metonym of musty odors that recall a bygone era which can never be recaptured. These sculptures are Victorian and Romantic simultaneously—safe and dangerous, pictorial and sublime, conventional and unique.
They are figuratively under wood. That is, they appear to be relics one finds in cedar chests and the kind of keepsakes one preserves to remember a time when the whole family was once happy. But, they also reveal that such familial happiness is fleeting, transitory and as much fantasy as reality. These pieces recall that our memories of moments past are a special kind of narrative we tell ourselves to protect us from the pain and sorrow of our histories. They recall a fallen and vaguely recalled majesty. And that is the point. These art works suggest a powerful naïve perception of time when all was right in the world, even as we acknowledge that such order never truly existed.
These assemblages remind us that our memories are unreliable, that the pristine beauty upon which we cling is tempered by the abject reality of our disaffections and disappointments. These calligrams lay bare the heartrending truths of the human condition; that is, they reveal that our Romantic craving for utopia is always already tempered by the Realistic truths that our aspirations must always be tempered by our limitations.
These works suggest a special kind of patina, an encrusted attic aesthetic. They are under wood—under the wood of a hope chest long forgotten whose dreams were never fully realized. Under wood—antique, tabulating machines lost in an age of electronic digital wizardry. Under the floorboards hide the realities of the lived experiences these works suggest. The moments Diane Lou crafts are “discarded.” Indeed, they suggest a “frustration” at the “fossilized” result of our “coupling” that may result in an unspeakable “sacrifice” that suggests an “evolution” of our “family history.” These works lay bare the harsh and beautiful truth that all our families are dysfunctional and thereby something we wish to keep in the closet. But, “cupid” always shoots arrows into places we least expect because from this melancholic meditation on familial frustration emerges the possibility of exuberance.
As I look at Diane Lou’s Memories, the lines of a William Butler Yeats poem came to mind; a poem I did not realize I had memorized. But, as I moved through the show, a specific line echoed in my mind: “a heart that laughter has made sweet, / These, these remain, but I record what’s gone.” I had to find the poem, and I knew Yeats had written it:
Fallen Majesty

Although crowds gathered once if she but showed her face,
And even old men’s eyes grew dim, this hand alone
Like some last courtier at a gypsy camping-place
Babbling of fallen majesty, records what’s gone.

The lineaments, a heart that laughter has made sweet,
These, these remain, but I record what’s gone. A crown
Will gather, and not know it walks the very street
Whereon a thing once walked that seemed a burning cloud. (1912)

How had Lou conjured this strong response? As one who looks at art on a daily basis, this palpable reaction was rare and unanticipated. Yet, she had hit the same note as Yeats and it thrummed deep in my soul. Further, these art works evoked my own family history; but, moreover, Lou’s reliefs strike a chord that resonates in all of us. Sure, nostalgia is an apt descriptor…but her art transcends mere nostalgia, it reminds us of our most cherished memories. There is a ubiquitous banality in the source material that offers fragments upon which we can project our own memories.
Diane Lou’s poems do not resolve our interpersonal dilemmas. Her work does not heal the wounds of water under the bridges of our families. Rather, her work reveals that all families have such turbulent waters; that we are imperfect vessels holding effluvia from impure sources. Lou’s work pinpoints the reality of the human condition: that we are always children seeking a solution to a problem that can not be solved, the “bluebird of happiness” may not yet be found by us children, but that does not preclude us from searching. Indeed, the search is the point. This search is poetic, and although happiness may be elusive we must be open to its random (and unexpected) appearance. And, the fragmented collection of common source materials offers the clearest iteration of such a truth—the “bluebird of happiness” reveals herself when we least expect it. Diane Lou knows this is true just like W.B. Yeats:
The Peacock
What’s riches to him
That has made a great peacock
With the pride of his eye?
The wind-beaten, stone-grey,
And desolate Three Rock
Would nourish his whim.
Live he or die
Amid wet rocks and heather,
His ghost will be gay
Adding feather to feather
For the pride of his eye. (1914)

Diane Lou’s eye has pride and empathic compassion. For, she clearly has seen all dimensions of the human condition and presents it with a poetry that few can compose. She conjures gay and gray ghosts that inform who we are. We may not share her private iconography, but certainly we can share her sensitivity for the passionate pain that enables us to love—not as lustful lovers but as wise, sensitive souls with the capacity to cherish our fondest memories even as they fade under the weight of a family’s darkest secrets. For, it is those secrets that enable the cherished moments to sing as beautiful songs, as the feathers of a proud peacock, as the gay ghost of pride.