Currently living and working as a commercial artist in Portland and Kingfield, Maine, Claudia Diller’s work is inspired by Maine’s western mountains, and the islands and bays off the coast. Although she carries a camera with her wherever she goes, her paintings are mental meanderings and memories of being in the mountains, and on Huck Finn adventures with her friend Tom on their little sailboat in and around the islands off the coast. “When I’m out there I have the most incredible feeling of not wanting to be anywhere else in the world. That’s what I try to paint - that memory, that feeling.“
Claudia attended the Silvermine School of Art in Silvermine, CT. She is a member of The Society for East End Arts and Upcountry Artists. Her work is currently on display at her studio in Portland.
(Image: "It Was Yellow I Saw This Morning" by Claudia Diller)
When did you first realize that you were going to be an artist and when did you first start making art?
I never really thought I was going to be an artist. I thought I was going to be an architect. I took a drafting class in junior high to begin the process, but was the only girl in the class and had a teacher who thought my “yoke was crooked.” That was the end of that dream and any aspiration of becoming an architect for me. I could always draw – it just sort of happened. In fact I always took it for granted, I just did it.
Who or what inspires you?
I am always looking at all kinds of artwork from cave paintings to Diebenkorn. I am also really inspired by landscapes, anywhere. The changing colors, the infinite patterns, the textures. Is there a plan here, or is it random, do I make sense of it, or does it make sense for me?
Is (was) anyone else in your family in the arts?
I think I had a uncle who was a famous sculptor. I should probably find out who he was shouldn’t I?
Are you self-trained or did you go to art school?
I went to art school for a year and a half back in the '60s. I didn’t paint though – didn’t want to. I was not interested in color at all. In fact I really wasn’t interested in art, but it was what I knew how to do. I never did take a painting class and never have. One of these days I will. I get stuck like everyone else and sometimes feel like a workshop would do me a lot of good. I started painting about twelve years ago. Someone threw me a copy of the The Artist's Way. I did the workbook and started drawing and painting. Before that and after school I hadn’t done all that much. Just some random stuff I did with my children and for the newspaper I used to manage.
"Apple Tree" by Claudia Diller
Is the process of creating your art long or short?
Sometimes a painting comes together as fast, easy and mindless as making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. And sometimes it’s a grueling, laborious, tooth-pulling source of agony. I have one painting I did in about two minutes. I framed it and keep it nearby to remind not to get hung up in small. I’m really not a detail person but when things aren’t coming to together, I doddle – probably a habit leftover from smoking. I used to love that seven minute excuse not to do anything.
Tell us something about your work.
When I first came to Maine 45+ years ago I was enthralled with the landscape. I loved the farms and the hills and mountains. I’m still enthralled with them. I don’t paint from photos or on site, but have these great first impressions of places. Moving to Portland ten years ago, I have the same feeling about the ocean and the islands. There’s a memory I have of my first visit to an island off the coast of Maine and I know it’s in all of my paintings somewhere. I think I feel like these places need to be preserved. I’m so concerned about the farms disappearing, and island life changing, and fisherman loosing their lifestyle. When I’m sailing we encounter fishermen all the time. I can’t imagine them working retail or in a factory somewhere. They’d die a slow agonizing death – the kind that happens when your spirit has been stolen.
Do you have a subject matter that defines you as an artist?
I guess it would have to be a sense of place. A place that is safe and peaceful and possible because it exists in my mind. And because it exists there and only there, no one from “out there” will ever be able to take it away. I guess that’s how I feel about what’s happening in Maine. There’s a way of life that’s being taken away and I want to preserve it the only way I know how – by painting it. Maybe then people will realize it needs protection.
What makes you stay with a particular subject matter? Why are you drawn to it?
It’s hard to trust outside forces, so I have learned to establish a sense of place within me that is beautiful and peaceful. I’m not a control freak, but I need to have a place I feel safe in once in a while. It helps me to deal with obstacles and challenges “out there.” So my paintings are a reflection of those safe and peaceful places. Hopefully they inspire people to find their own place.
How do you stay motivated?
I have determined that I am an emotional 10 year old. So I set fun and challenging goals for myself. My art calendar for instance, began as a way to challenge myself to paint twelve paintings a year. I also established the name “Peaceful Places” when this country decided to go into Iraq. Rather than do the anti war thing, I established the calendar as my own pro peace movement. As long as there are wars I will continue to put this calendar out as “Peaceful Places” in hope that people will crave it.
What have you been working on lately? Are you experimenting with anything new?
I went to Artist and Craftsmen a couple of weeks ago and told my friend Tom, who works there, that I was stuck. He turned me on to some new “stuff” to mess around with. I haven’t tried the “stuff” out yet, but keep glancing at it – it’s right next to my easel like an alter ego. I keep it there because I never know when my ego, in a moment of weakness, allows courage to come rushing through.
Has your medium changed from when you first started out?
I started out with watercolors, but decided I wanted more intense color and switched to acrylic. So I bought all off the stuff I needed and set out to do a painting. Boy was that a rude awakening. All of a sudden there were textured brush strokes like living, breathing organisms crawling across my canvas. I called a friend threatening to cut off my left ear if she didn’t come over to my apartment immediately to look at the first couple attempts. Thankfully she advised me to keep moving ahead.
What advice would you give to an artist just starting out?
Practice, practice, practice. And a sense of humor – always a sense of humor. There are a lot of outside forces that do not embrace liberated creativity. When they come at you, you have to laugh them away.
What kind of comment do you despise the most when overheard at one of your openings?
I’ve only had two openings and haven’t heard any, but if I was to hear one that would really make me angry it would be that my paintings aren’t edgy enough or that they contain no intellect. It took me a long time to get over the gruesome black and white anti-war protest stuff with full blown intellectual engagement I did in art school during the '60s. I didn’t do any artwork for a long time because where I went with those pieces was dark and scary. I got stuck there once and wasn’t going to get stuck again. It kept me from doing artwork for decades. It was Picasso who said “paint what you want,” and a Russian sculptor who’s name escapes me now who said “work without intellect,” that gave me permission to be like a kid and start over again.
What kind of comment pleases you the most when overheard at one of your openings?
That my paintings take people places - that my paintings are a doorway to somewhere, a jumping off point. I’ve had a number of cancer patients tell me that interestingly enough.
"Peaceful Morning" by Claudia Diller
How have you handled the business side of being an artist?
Oh well, you know, I try. I have Quicken, thank heavens, and my brother Bill’s original accounting system. And I spend every Monday morning doing financial stuff. I used to do my own taxes until my mother informed me years ago that there are people out there who do that kind of stuff. It was a great moment in my life. I now actually enjoy witnessing my financial roller coaster on paper. Must be the designer in me.
I think the toughest part of the business is self-promotion. It’s damn scary to put yourself out there. I’m not good at it. I usually wait until my refrigerator is empty, at which point the primal thing kicks in and I look for a part time job. I haven’t had the guts to knock on gallery doors yet.
Do you have any outside interests other than art?
Politics interest me. I go into great physical and emotional discomfort if I get too involved however, so I usually support them and my chosen non-profits with my artwork instead. And I love to walk around town observing life in action. I also love to ski – it’s as close to flying as anything I do, and sailing. Both skiing and sailing keep in the present because if I don’t, I could die. And I love music of all kinds, but jazz in particular. It throws me into an altered state.
Are you disciplined about your creative process (in other words, do you treat the process like a job, where you keep particular hours in the studio), or are you more spontaneous?
I have to be structured to some degree otherwise I go into this place where I think I have unlimited hours to complete what needs to be done. That can really drag a project on. The danger for me is that because I also do design work, rather than working out a snag in one process, I’ll jump into my other creative process to get away from the discomfort of a snag. Like everyone else, I don’t like to be uncomfortable on any level. I really have to work hard to convince myself to stay put and turn the snag into a fun challenge.
How would your life change if you were no longer allowed to create art?
I’d go through major withdrawal because painting is like an addiction for me. But I don’t think it would be traumatic for me to stop creating art. I think I’d be able to find another way to be creative. It would be really traumatic for me however, if I was not allowed to create, period. Of course at that point we cease to be human I guess.
What's the best part of being a full time, working artist?
The freedom to create whatever I want, whenever I want.
What's the worst part of being a full time, working artist?
Not having enough money or time to do the above.
Where can we find your work?
I post my work on my web site and hang it in my apartment. People call up and stop by.
Do you have any upcoming shows?
I belong to the Society for East End Arts. We had an Open Studios Tour on Sunday, June 28th from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm. The next show is Art in the Park in South Portland at Mill Creek Park.
For more information on Claudia Diller or to see more of her work, please visit her website.
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