Diana Behl’s recent work embodies an assortment of material investigation, including print media, collage and drawing. Her images are prompted by specific instances—memories of places visited, passages read, bits of everyday references, or interactions of material and form—both in and outside of the studio. Using these prompts, her practice then evolves around the improvisation and discovery uncovered while making, further enabling form to embody the evolution of that specific cue.
She has exhibited her print media work at venues such as the Highpoint Center for Printmaking (Minneapolis, MN); 808 Gallery (Boston, MA); William Patterson University Galleries (Wayne, NJ); and presented a solo exhibition of brand-new works on paper at the Greenleaf Gallery at Whittier College (Whittier, CA) in early 2015. Her works on paper have been featured in the Western Edition of New American Paintings (Volume 66) and the 2004 New American Paintings MFA Annual.
A current and past recipient of a South Dakota Arts Council grant, Diana Behl holds an MFA from The University of Iowa, and a BFA from Bowling Green State University. She is currently an Assistant Professor in Printmaking and Foundations in the School of Design at South Dakota State University.
“Cutting and re-arranging a page of written words introduces a new dimension in to writing, enabling the writer to turn images in cinematic variation.” –William S. Burroughs
This series investigates the language of print media, drawing and collage, acknowledging the literary cut-ups of William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin. My artistic process encompasses approaches to both chance and deliberate organization, using paper as a primary medium. Over the years, I have created and saved an inventory of drawings, traditionally and digitally printed materials, and painted ephemera. I pull from these archives, combining resources from past and current experiments to harvest new compositions. Past projects are cut apart and rearranged to make them anew, and various elements are culled together to connect disparate fragments. Cutting, unfolding, and rearranging: this flexibility enables trial-and-error—and happenstance—maneuvering through imagined spaces. These works explore compositional possibility, dissonant surfaces and aim to manipulate a print or drawing in “cinematic variation”.
An emphatic flatness emerges through interplay between the edges of collage pieces and a bright white ground. Narratives develop as components join each picture plane. Memory or bits of everyday references further serve as visual cues. Order is arranged within a cacophony of information. I reconfigure and re-contextualize collected material in a gestated and improvisational manner—at times, seeking both a textural harmony and discord.
Q&A with Diana Behl
by Emily Burns
How did you become interested in collage initially? Have you always worked in this way?
My interest began in a freshmen 2-D Design course. Our class met in the printmaking studio and we explored a project that involved constructing collages, then making (and later exchanging) postcards using a photocopy transfer method. I mailed a postcard to my instructor, and she mailed it back to me with additions of tiny, collaged airplanes. This was 19 years ago!
It seems like the majority of the collage elements in your work have been made by you—how do you create and organize all of the pieces? Do you make them for specific pieces or do you recycle and reuse elements?
I set aside time just to make imagery to use for collage using drawing media, gouache or watercolor. I paint my own paper scraps, but also use bits of colored paper. I work with both found and pigment printed images output on coated Japanese papers.
Past projects are cut apart and combined with new material. Elements are also generated through traditional print media—etchings, aquatints, linocuts, and screenprints. Some pieces are derived from stacks of color and state proofs. Other times I will specifically create a matrix to produce material to later manipulate.
All of these items are stored in bins and boxes, and there are lots of piles on my studio tables. They occasionally get lost in my studio if they are tucked away—sometimes I search for hours looking for a particular piece that was put away months before.
When I begin working on a new piece I start to explore new relationships by combining a few major elements from this accumulation of visual material. The images are built by more of these interactions entering into (and exiting) the picture plane. Collage is trial and error.
It seems like you are using such a wide range of media and processes in order to create the elements in your work. Which of these allow you to work the most intuitively? Is this important?
Collage and drawing are flexible, prompting happenstance and intuitive decision-making. This allows for some of the most unusual relationships to occur. Working with printmaking methods requires much more planning. The gestation period in these traditional processes—at least in the way in which I work with them—has lead to exploration in other media where the outcome is more immediate.
My work encompasses juxtaposition. The balance of intuitive and planned, generative and spontaneous, system and organic, is essential. Moving between all of the various projects influences one another.
Can you talk a bit about your mark-making style? Do you look at source material or references when you are drawing/printing? Is pattern important to you? If so, what types of patterns are you interested in?
I am interested in organic patterns, and enjoy making patterns with the same mark repeated over and over again. My patterns are sometimes inspired by my garden, by quick snapshots that I take, or by the qualities inherent in the various materials that I use.
What is a typical day like for you?
My days vary depending on the time of year and semester, and studio time is carved out in pockets of time between academic responsibilities. Weekends allow for large blocks of uninterrupted focus. Summers are devoted almost entirely to intaglio prints and editions.
What are some of the biggest challenges that you have overcome as an artist so far in your career?
Living in a rural environment for the past decade has been both a challenge and a motivator. My immediate audience is fairly small, so I seek out new audiences by applying for as many opportunities as I am able.
Can you describe your studio space? What are your most important workspace essentials?
I work in several different studios: I have a small room in my house where most of my collages are constructed. I work in the print studio on campus where I teach. My partner owns a small print studio, Gum Pal Press, and I also work in his studio—particularly when we are collaborating on a project. The most important workspace essentials include tables, paper and the French Tool Press!
What do you listen to while you work? Is this an important part of your practice?
KEXP and The Current streaming are favorites. My current rotation includes: Beach House, Tortoise, Express Rising.
Has there ever been a book/essay/poem/film/etc that totally changed or influenced you? What are you reading right now? What are some of the artists that you look at feel that your work is in dialogue with?
Reading about the life and pedagogy of Corita Kent has made a profound impact. Her teaching and creative practice were inextricably combined, and her philosophies and curiosity is a model. With the start of the new semester, I am reading and re-reading teaching material: Teaching Artist Handbook, Josef Albers’ Interaction of Color, the Magical Secrets series from Crown Point Press. I have been a longtime fan of The Believer, and am moved by its content with every new issue.
Do you have any advice for recent grads that are looking for teaching jobs, transitioning out of graduate school, or looking to begin their career as studio artists?
Be committed and steadfast. Seek out conversations and diverse opportunities so you build a foundation of experience outside of school.
You have had recent exhibitions in a lot of different locations around the country. Can you talk a bit about how you stay involved in exhibitions?
I apply for a lot of opportunities. Participating in a wide variety of projects and exhibitions helps me think about and examine my work in new and different contexts.
Do you have any exciting news or shows coming up?
The Contemporary Print at Flatbed Press in Austin, TX and Art in America at the Elizabeth Stone Harper Gallery at Presbyterian College in Clinton, South Carolina.
Thanks so much for sharing you work and talking with us!
To find out more about Diana's work, check out the artist's website.