"MIRROR IMAGES/Moving Toward Light"

"MIRROR IMAGES/Moving Toward Light"

"Deep Into His Distance" Oil on canvas, 48" x 94"

“MIRROR IMAGES/Moving Toward Light”
essay by Diane Armitage, Santa Fe, New Mexico 1991

 “The work of soul-making is concerned essentially with the evocation of psychological faith, the faith arising from the psyche which shows as faith in the reality of the soul.  Since psyche is primarily image and image is always psyche, this faith manifests itself in the belief in images:  it is idolatrous, heretical to the imageless monotheisms of metaphysics and theology.  Psychological faith begins in the love of images, and it flows mainly through the shapes of persons in reveries, fantasies, reflections, and imaginations.  Their increasing vivification gives on an increasing conviction of having, and then of being, an interior reality of deep significance transcending one’s personal life.” 
 If much of contemporary representational painting can be said to rely heavily on diffident attitudes, this is not the case with artist Diane Marsh who in her own way tries to ‘force the hand of destiny’ not only for herself, but for the viewer as well.  She does this in order to break into a more expanded psychological terrain; and in this strategy she succeeds even if it seems at times to be against the viewer’s own will-the will to hide and dissemble in the face of ‘the moment of truth’ which reflects back at us from the unequivocal light of the mirror.
 In a diptych by Marsh entitled “Deep Into His Distance”, (1989) a middle-aged man sits with one hand supporting his head, his eyes half-closed, not as in preparation for sleep, but as in meditation or a deep trance.  He carries the unmistakable weight of someone whose gaze has gone far within to some unknown territory that is suggestive of a moment of internalized realization unadulterated by any means of exterior mediation.  This “everyman” figure (in fact an image of the artist’s father) confronts perhaps his own mortality, or a fleeting sense of failure, or personalized loss, but there is no one key to reading the psychological content except that the moment is a grave one, and the direction of gravity is toward an introspective place where body and soul come together to form a meta-physical horizon line, or vanishing point to feeling.  The other half of the diptych is an exquisitely rendered wave near the shoreline of an oceanic infinity, and that wave has just begun to crest and soon the force within that form will become scattered into its constituent elements as it washes up on the beach.  The two images taken as one whole suggest a highly condensed situation that brings the viewer to a threshold where concrete reality merges with a vast plane of abstraction.
“Deep Into His Distance” represents a high water mark of achievement in the career of painter Diane Marsh.  Using a painstaking technique that one could refer to as hyper-realism, Marsh paints the figure as a vehicle to realize moments of heightened psychological content.  Yet Marsh steadfastly maintains that these paintings are not about the figures she paints.  She states: “My work is not about realism…These paintings are not intended to be portraits in the traditional sense of portrait painting…Rather they are portraits of humanity…I do not consider this work to be entirely in the tradition of figure painting.  I went to art school in the 1970’s and my work is grounded in the ideas of conceptualism, minimalism, abstraction, media and film.  Media and film had a great impact on many artists of this time”.   This statement may seem a paradox in lieu of the fact that Marsh focuses so intently on the figure to carry the weight of her ideas; and she paints these figures with an impeccable style of realist rendering so that many viewers call her a photo –realist painter, a category that she firmly eschews.  Marsh is quick to point out that although she may use a photograph or many photographs, or a mirror, or look out the window to paint the land and incorporate that, it is her sense of color, space, and light that dictate the overall quality of representation that evolves in each painting as the psychological content rises to the surfaces of her consciousness.  These spiritual, transcendent and intuitive aspects of her paintings come into being through the act of painting and are not pre-arranged or dictated by photographs.
One perceives in Marsh’s work a highly torqued form of a distillation of ingredients-a condensation of materials that brings the viewer back to some abstract point: a new beginning where the flesh becomes word and the word is entrained with a carefully distilled drop of emotion that reverse the direction of creation:  An inverse expansion that begins at the level of the concrete and travels toward the unknown, or toward some greater vastness that envelopes all human beings in their constant struggle to become conscious.  The people in Marsh’s paintings convey a sense of emotional realization or confrontation, or even the weight of personal disbelief as they appear to us at the threshold of the known and the unknown.  They appear as a “naked singularity”--- a point of suspension between the imagination of the artist and a pull toward dissolution; and by this I don’t mean dissolution in the sense of annihilation, but as a cross roads in the matrix of existence where all the forces that come to play upon our psyches meet and merge and cancel out the objective particulars in favor of an abstract ‘moment of truth’.  It is at this juncture of the subject and the object that Marsh commits to the probability that meaning exists---and the act of rendering the potential for meaningfulness becomes a highly developed form of SELF consciousness.  By the concept of SELF, I do not mean this in its narrowest definition as a vehicle for ego transactions, but as a concept that symbolizes that vast inner plateau of “the figures and fantasies born of the imaginative heart”. 2.
Marsh agrees that what she attempts to paint is not a portrait of someone grieving, for instance, but an approximation for that process whereby an individual begins to face all that lies below the surface of the objective world---begins to face, as it were her or his soul.  As a young painter Marsh used the figure, but usually combined it with a bold sense of pattern and color.  In her late 20’s however, Marsh (who is 36 years old at the time of this article) phased out the use of pattern and all referents to objective reality in favor of a reduction in the amount of information in order to concentrate of a technique to probe the inner reaches of the human psyche.  As her work evolved, the intensity of the psychological content became the foremost intention of her painting.  Marsh states: “I want these paintings to be a statement about all human beings...I want them to be as timeless as possible.  I want them to be about universal issues that confront us all and illuminate what it means to be human at this point in time.
Marsh insists that it’s the sense of mystery behind the technique that preoccupies her.  Her art is not about the knowledge and control of her highly developed technique of painting, which she feels lies only on the surface.  She is searching through her work for a greater truth.  It’s the mystery of life and its riches, the richness of the unknown terrain, which lies below the surface of everyone that Marsh is drawn and dedicated to.  She adds: “This is my vision, difficult as it may be for others.  I feel that these images are a way to get at the nature of the self and that I need to say it in this manner…”
There is a distinct threshold that the viewer is asked to cross in Marsh’s work, and part of that threshold has to do with letting go of the fear of pain and suffering.  All of our major “rites of passage”, if we are to successfully pass through them in the process of the evolution of our consciousness, rest on a fulcrum more or less bound to the painful realization that self-scrutiny can come as a form of anxiety and suffering.  Marsh paints intense levels of feeling common to all, but does not mediate the image with any ‘smokescreens’ to make the act of perception more palatable to the viewer/participant.  Her bold and honest representation of psychological content is the crystal lattice of Marsh’s intensions.  She says: “These images are about walking thorough the painting to get to something else…I don’t see them as being about death---They’re about letting go of parts of yourself---They’re about human growth and transcendence, and in order to do that one must face their pain and sorrows.  You have to walk through the pain to get to other levels inside.  Many people don’t want to make that journey.  I see these paintings as being very hopeful because they’re about confronting what we all have to confront in order to grow.  This is a good thing.”
At the present time, Marsh is involved in her diptych series that she began in 1987, and that she feels embodies her strongest and most heartfelt concerns.  In the diptychs there is the suggestion of a quest for trans-personal meaning beyond even the nature of the self.  In the diptychs there is paired with the figure some representative view from the natural world as in the breaking wave of “Deep Into His Distance” (1989) or a filtered sun as if seen through dense fog in “Moving Toward Light” (1988), or a view of a distant galaxy that is paired with the image of a distraught woman in a work called “Rage, Rage Against the Dying of the Light” (1990).
In all of these diptychs Marsh is trying to suggest that the life of the soul is inextricably and fundamentally bound to the world of nature.  Beyond even the ultimate truths of our own human nature, there is the seemingly infinite and ordered phenomena that constitute the natural world around us that we cannot be separated from under peril of our continued evolution.  Marsh passionately believes we shouldn’t alienate ourselves form nature because we originate from there and we are totally apart of it in spite of these contemporary times where our relationships to nature are being constantly tested, obstructed, and destroyed. 
“Without man’s reflecting consciousness the world is monstrously meaningless: for according to our experience man is the only creature that can determine “meaning” at all”. 3.
The probability that meaning exists within the confines of Diane Marsh’s practice is great.  If meaning were to be limited only to the concepts of SELF consciousness that she pursues in her work, then the ability that Marsh has to bring the viewer to the threshold of other levels of awareness that lie behind the concretization of reality is beyond question. Her seriousness of purpose and her distinct ability to realize that purposefulness is a force that sets our inner world in motion once again---expanding it outward and toward a form of symbolic dissolution and to a new act of creation having originated in a single drop of highly distilled awareness.  And for Diane Marsh, the increments of her awareness are the differentials of her evolution.
1.    James Hillman; A Blue Fire; Harper and Row, 1989; p. 86
2.    Ibid; p. 141
3.    C. G. Jung quoted in: Number and Time; Marie Louise von Franz; Northwestern Univesity Press, 1974; p. 165

Mannerism Kept Alive in Style, New Shows

Albuquerque Journal North November 21, 1991, by David Bell
EXCERPT:   "To take an example from this week's gallery shows, are the troubling paintings by Diane Marsh at Janus Gallery merely sensational or do they have some larger value?  Portraying people who appear to be her friends, and in the throes of emotional or health crises, the artist exhibits many of the hallmarks of Mannerism: the extreme feelings, the harsh chromatic values, the confrontationally frontal poses, and the sense of experimentation.  In addition, Marsh updates Mannerism in respect to photography, taking the latter into account by her ultra-realistic style. 
On the one hand this is highly ephemeral art in that it deals with passing personal moments in our passing collective times.  On the other hand, it's potentially enduring for exactly the same reason.  The universality of art comes always out of the particular.  The emphasis on anguish, as much as Marsh has made it part of her personal approach to painting, speaks also for the times."