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Alumni spotlight


Our third issue of BRIO Spotlight zeroes in on the distinctive work of Bronx visual artist Donna Diamond. The groundbreaking innovation that Diamond brings to her craft is something the BRIO Award seeks to cultivate. It also gives the Bronx a source of great pride. We hope you feel the same!
   
Lydia Clark, Art Services Associate
John Sparaci, Spotlight Editor
   

   

donna diamond

Making a "Mark" of her Own

"Ann in Winter"
"Elizabeth"
"Hidden"
It’s a good thing Donna Diamond (right) returned to printmaking.

After taking a hiatus from the craft to illustrate children’s books and publish an image-only psychological drama called “The Shadow,” this two-time BRIO winner has produced a series of unique images that are bound to elicit wonder and awe.

This effect, it turns out, is no accident. The linoleum cuts of older women, titled “What Dreams May Come,” represent a fascinating and largely unexplored world of complexity and meaning. As Diamond states on her Web site, theartofdonnadiamond.com, “My recent work explores the dark, melancholy, and untamed parts of our thoughts. There is value in visiting these mysterious and chaotic places. They are a source of power, imagination, and deep personal identity.”

This work also helped Diamond win her second BRIO Award. In order to understand the inspiration behind the work and how she has managed to express it so powerfully,

The Bronx Council on the Arts spoke with Diamond and asked her the following questions:

BCA: Donna, how did you first become interested in the dark and melancholy elements that these cuts portray?

Donna: I began to focus on dark elements when I created the book “The Shadow,” which was my first original story to be published. Thoughts about aging and the nature of fear had become relevant in my own life. I began to think about my own mortality. Many of my friends are older, and I began to realize that older women in America face tremendous challenges. Socially and politically, older women can often be marginalized and feel invisible. Women in their 70s, 80s, and 90s have lived complex lives with many personal challenges. I began to wonder how a woman in America ages with grace.


“We all have introspective moments, when
we realize that our realities have darkness.
These help make us who we are.”


BCA: So would you call the images a social commentary of sorts?

Donna: They are to some extent, but they are primarily portraits of my own concerns, and my concerns for women as they age. The women in these portraits are strong, beautiful and resilient. They have lived through profound losses — of family and friends, of health, and of sight and hearing. These women have reached a period of balance, perspective and wisdom – and it’s only experience that can take you there.

BCA: Does the dark nature of the work match your own personality at all?

Donna: I am not dark or melancholy, but I would call myself pensive. We all have introspective moments, when we realize that our realities have darkness. These help make us who we are. They are also an ingredient for our imagination.

BCA: But the style is so unusual, so riveting and striking. How did you manage to portray this darkness in such a severe way?

Donna: I think the severity of the look is partially the result of working with linoleum. In a stark black-and-white technique, I created images that are “inscapes,” or pictures of what’s inside us that can’t be seen. Combining the technique with the subject contributed to the overall look and feel.

BCA: Tell us more about the technique!

Donna: Well, I took broken dental picks and honed them into my own cutting tools, because I found it very difficult to make my own personal marks with store-bought tools.

The delicate tools I made allowed me to think fully in terms of light and dark. Traditionally, linoleum has been used to make bold graphic statements, but my objective was to find the shadowy light in the material. This was a departure from how linoleum is generally seen.

BCA: And tell us more about the public’s reactions to the work.

Donna: I mostly heard things like “Whoa!” and “How did you do that?” It seemed to take everyone by surprise.

BCA: How about the subjects of these portraits? How did they react?

Donna: I know the subjects of the portraits well. Their general attitude was “This is who I am – make your art.” When they saw the finished work, they were excited and felt respected. It wasn’t important to them how their hair looked.

The woman depicted in “Ann in Winter” is my mother. She is 90 years old and growing blind. She was unsure about the portrait at first, as it was hard for her to make it out. But when she saw it strongly lit on a gallery wall, she took a shine to it. Now, when she is feeling feisty, she puts her hands up to her face and poses as she did in the portrait.


“My work has always looked like my work.
My art has my voice, and I trust that voice
and depend on it.”


BCA: You’ve said that you were heavily influenced by printmaker Robert Blackburn. How does that play into your work?

Donna: Many years ago I studied printmaking with Bob Blackburn and he became a mentor and a friend. Bob was an extraordinary man. He taught me as much about life as he did about art. Thanks to the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts, the Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop continues his mission of providing a supportive studio for all those who want to learn the art.

Bob’s sensibilities have been a tremendous influence on me throughout the years. Yet, I have come to realize that my work has always looked like my work. My art has my voice, and I trust that voice and depend on it.

BCA: What about the BRIO Award? What has winning it done for your endeavors?

Donna: It is a great honor to have won the BRIO Award for Printmaking and for Book Art and Illustration. The Bronx Council on the Arts has offered me the chance to connect with other artists and the arts community. BRIO has introduced me to new ways of thinking about art and to the process of collaboration, in which you can create works of art that embrace other artists’ strengths and skills.

BCA: Lastly, how about “What Dreams May Come?” Is it influencing your future work?

Donna: Yes, it is! I am continuing to explore the potential of portraiture to express the beauty and strength of women, and the complexity of their lives.

At the same time, I want to continue to discover the quality of light in linoleum and work to articulate the character of that light. This is what I love to do, and when I’m working, I feel like I’m home.

Photos: Lydia Clark

 

 

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